Articles Posted in Legislation-Regulation

When thinking about restructuring a mortgage or even going through the foreclosure process, most homeowners are motivated by the bottom line-lower monthly mortgage payments or relief from burdening debt.

What most homeowners do not consider is that along with lower mortgage payments, they may receive an income tax bill from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Internal Revenue Code, which embodies the federal tax laws, classifies some discharge or forgiveness of debt as taxable income.

In other words, if the bank agrees to foregive or reduce your principal on the mortgage you signed, then you may owe income tax on the foregiven portion of the mortgage. For example, say you restructure the mortgage on your New York State home and you consequently owe $30,000 less, that $30,000 is considered “income” and is potentially taxed. The idea is that if you borrow money, which is then not paid back, it is a debt that is not being paid back and is akin to receiving “free” money. The taxing authorities consider such foregiveness “income,” because you got the value, but are now not paying it back.

Is there ever any tax relief? Property Taxes in New York are ever escalating. As a result, many tax payers claimed that their real estate was eligible for School Tax Relief (STAR), when many of such properties were not actually eligble. Asssessors around the State were missing out on millions of dollars. As a result, the New York State Legislature amended the law to require many New York homeowners to re-apply.

To qualify for STAR, you must occupy your home and your income plus your spouse’s income cannot exceed $500,000 per year. STAR then exempts the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes. Until now, homeowners signed up once for STAR and enjoyed the benefits year after year. However, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance is changing the rules for 2014. To continue receiving STAR benefits in 2014, a new law requires homeowners to re-affirm their eligibility. Registration started on August 19 and will end on December 31, 2013.

Homeowners currently receiving Basic Star should watch their mail. The State Taxation Department is mailing STAR codes to STAR recipients. The code is required to register. Letters were already sent to homeowners in Western New York in the following counties: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates. The remainder of New York State will receive letters containing the codes by early October.

After various district attorneys around the state found that homeowners were cheating the system, the New York State Legislature is poised to make all home owners RE-REGISTER for the STAR exemption which can result in a reduction of school taxes. According to recent reports, homeowners will have a year to re-apply for the program, with a deadline of April 1, 2014.

Under the STAR program, New York homeowners who make less than $500,000 and live in their property are eligible, making the the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes. New Yorkers 65 and older may qualify for the enhanced STAR program. That exempts the first $63,300 of the full value of a home.

Homeowners can apply for the STAR exemption on the website of the state Taxation and Finance Department.

It seems to be getting a little more risky to post negative online reviews. A Virginia Court recently ordered that certain negative online reviews of a home improvement contractor be removed from Yelp.com, pending a trial for defamation against the reviewer.

The reviewer, apparently unsatisfied with the work performed by the contractor at her home, posted negative comments on the websites of Yelp and Angie’s List, alleging that the contractor caused damage to her home and that jewelry had gone missing after the contractor performed work at her home. A civil suit is currently pending against the reviewer who posted the negative comments seeking $750,000 in damages for defamation of the contractor.

While this isn’t the first defamation case arising from a negative online review, these lawsuits are fairly uncommon. Although the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects websites like Yelp and Angie’s List from lawsuits relating to negative reviews posted by their users, the individuals posting such reviews are not immune from liability. In New York, like most other states, a claim for defamation arises when a person makes a false statement resulting in harm to another person’s reputation. Although there are a number of defenses that can prevent a plaintiff from succeeding in recovering damages on a defamation claim, proving that the statement is true is always a defense to such a claim.

With the farm-to-table movement all the rage, and demand for more transparency in the production of our food, home coops have taken off. You may think that because you live in an urban area you can’t possibly be permitted to have your own chicken coop or because you live in a suburban or rural area you can keep as many chickens as you’d like, but you would be surprised. For example, the City of White Plains only requires that any chickens kept in the city be, “securely enclosed in such a manner as to prevent them from straying from the premises of the person owning them.” White Plains Code of Ordinances, § 5-2-1(a). On the other hand, the Westchester Village of Port Chester prohibits any chickens or roosters from being kept within its limits. Port Chester Village Code, § 136-14.

While many towns and villages in New York permit the keeping of chickens on residential property, it is common for localities to ban roosters. The Village of Nyack prohibits “owning or keeping a rooster within village limits” and violation constitutes disorderly conduct. Village of Nyack Code, § 131-1. Similarly, some towns place restrictions on just how many chickens you can have on your property.

In the Town of Somers, Westchester County, a maximum of six (6) chickens (but no mature cockerels) may be kept on your property if its area totals 40,000 square feet or more. Somers Town Code, § 170-11. If you want to keep more chickens on your property than your town allows, you’ll need to ask the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance and/or a special use permit.

The New York Times recently ran an article highlighting the myriad of legal obstacles gay couples face in raising a family together.

For example, although many states allow a second mother to be listed on a child’s birth certificate, when a same sex married couple travels to a state that does not recognize their union, the relationship established by the child’s birth certificate may not be recognized (despite the general principle that state courts give full faith and credit to other states’ judgments).

This failure to recognize the same sex parent-child relationship can have widespread consequences. For example, an unrecognized parent may not have authority to make medical or other decisions for the child, and in the event of the legally recognized parent’s death, the other spouse would not necessarily be granted guardianship of the child.

So, your next door neighbor wants to “legalize,” install, or expand an airport in New York, what do you do? Hire a lawyer, participate in the process and call your legislators because any installation of an “airport” in New York requires legislative approval from the legislative body of the municipality. That approval, together with the “positive declaration” of the New York State Department of Transportation might just mean that you are dealing with an airport in your back yard.

Specifically, the Gen Bus. L, Section 249, states:

(3). Approval of privately-owned airports. No person shall hereafter establish a privately-owned airport or make an airport improvement to an existing privately-owned airport except by authorization of the governing body of the city, village or town in which such airport or any part thereof is proposed to be established or improved. The governing body of a city, village or town shall not authorize the establishment of such an airport or an airport improvement at a requested location unless in accordance with the standards prescribed by the commissioner of transportation. The local governing body of a city, village or town shall, prior to granting such authorization, request the commissioner of transportation to determine whether or not the establishment of such a privately-owned airport improvement complies with his standards.

A famous former New York City mayor prosecuted “quality of life” crimes to “clean up the streets,” but what if that enforcement mentality came to the streets and sidewalks of Nyack. This month, a local resident saw my article in the Nyack Villager, and asked,

My problem is with property owners that are allowed to grow their hedges and shrubberies well over the edge of the sidewalks. I have found the worst violators are along . . . . . Up to a foot of sidewalk is lost in places because vegetation has grown without proper maintenance. In places, two people who want to walk abreast have to go into single file…or worse, one has to walk in the street. At this point, it is more than just an annoyance, it is a safety issue. . . . .[Name withheld by me].

As someone who commutes by foot, I understand the blight of overgrown hedges, cracked and damaged sidewalks, and icy patches near down spouts pouring onto the sidewalk. What are the rules that govern our sidewalks, and whose responsibility is it to fix the problem? It turns out that the Village of Nyack has very strong sidewalk laws designed to make them clean and safe– the question is whether we as a community are going to enforce those laws.

Do you hire a doctor or a lawyer without checking their licenses, their pedigree, and their referrals? So, why is it that when it comes to investing in their greatest asset (the home), so many people become victims of dishonest contractors who demand large advance payments for projects, and then fail to complete the work fully or competently. What are your rights.

In Rockland County, there are several resources designed to protect us from unscrupulous home improvement contractors. The first, Rockland County Code, Section 286, empowers the Office of Consumer Protection to license and regulate nearly all home improvement contractors and transactions. [Rockland County Law can be found at http://www.ecode360.com/?custId=RO1021, Chapter 286].

The comprehensive law covers everything from licensing individual contractors; (286-7) the contents of home improvement contracts (286-12); the prohibited acts (286-10); the penalties for not complying with the law (286-21); and the powers of the Board. While the nuances of such law are complex, the goal is to provide minimum standards to avoid the main problems that homeowners have with contractors.

[Dutchess County, New York]. When is a television monitor a “sign,” under Rhinebeck Zoning Enforcement Regulations. That is a battle being waged between our client and the Village of Rhinebeck, New York. Since this is a pending matter, we will permit the Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper account to speak for itself.

Bottom Line– The First Amendment of the US Constitution is a powerful tool, supported by the New York State Constitution which provides even broader protection to freedom of speech.

Judge for Yourself