Courtney M. Hills (I- East Syracuse), is endorsed by and will appear on the Independence, Republican, and Libertarian Party lines on the ballot in November 5, 2019.

Courtney is also endorsed by the Onondaga County Veterans Party, Teamsters Local 317, and UA Local 267 Steamfitters and Plumbers.


Courtney, 40, is the president / owner of the Law Offices of Courtney M. Hills, P.C, in East Syracuse, New York. She concentrates her practice in the representation of village and town legislative, planning, zoning, and assessment review boards, as well as developers, buyers, sellers and lenders in commercial and residential real estate transactions.

Ms. Hills received her Juris Doctor degree from Syracuse University College of Law, a Bachelor of Science degree from Syracuse University College of Human Services & Health Professionals, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University College of Arts & Sciences. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association, the Onondaga County Bar Association, the New York State Conference of Mayors and Public Officials, and the New York State Association of Towns.

Ms. Hills maintains an active profile in the local community. She supports several local not-for-profit organizations that raise funds in support of research, education and awareness for ovarian and breast cancer, and has previously served on the Board of Directors for Home Headquarters, an organization whose mission is to create housing opportunities for individuals and families and to improve communities in Central and Upstate New York. When not working or volunteering, Courtney makes time to appreciate some simple pleasures, including spending time with friends and family, keeping up with a fitness routine at the local Orangetheory Fitness Studio, and hanging out at home with her beloved dogs Thomas and Coco.
Ms. Hills has been the recipient of numerous accolades including being recognized as a 2017 & 2018 Upstate New York Super Lawyer Rising Star, included in the Who’s Who Directory Top Attorneys of North America 2017 Edition, and appeared in The Top 100 Magazine’s 2017 edition of the Top 100 Distinguished Attorneys.

Courtney is a young, energized and open-minded independent. Voters have been expressing a desire for change and a good place to start is by electing a new generation with new ideas and independent thinking that will strive to find the best ideas for our community.

Hills seeks legislature seat

Courtney M. Hills (I- East Syracuse) has announced her candidacy for the 7th Legislative District of the Onondaga County Legislature. If elected Courtney would become the first Independence Party member on the County Legislature, as well as the first female legislator for the 7th legislative district. She is also endorsed by and will appear on the Republican and Libertarian Party lines on the ballot this November.

There is a favorite saying (by Mary Anne Radmacher) that Courtney both relates to and continues to aspire to everyday. “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes Courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying I will try again tomorrow.”

And after meeting Courtney, it’s easy to associate her with these wise words.  When in her company, it’s quick to see that although she has an overall quiet demeanor, she is an outspoken resilient woman driven by her ambitions and goals.

“People are who they are because of their experiences. As a young child I felt the stress of my parents’ divorce and witnessed the struggles my mother faced being a single parent living paycheck to paycheck. I learned very early on that if I wanted to achieve my goals and find success, I needed to focus and put in the hard work to get there.”

It was this mindset that enabled Courtney to balance several part-time jobs during her high school and college days. She graduated high school with honors and went on to earn three degrees from Syracuse University. She is now the President of the Law Offices of Courtney M. Hills, P.C. in East Syracuse, where she concentrates her practice in the representation of village and town legislative, planning, and zoning boards, as well as real estate transactions. She has been the recipient of numerous accolades for her work, including being named an Upstate New York Super Lawyer Rising Star in 2017 and 2018.

And while her professional endeavors are a big part of Courtney’s life, she also maintains an active role in the local community. Courtney supports several local not-for-profit organizations that raise funds in support of research, education and awareness for ovarian and breast cancer, and has previously served on the Board of Directors for Home Headquarters, an organization whose mission is to create housing opportunities for individuals and families and to improve communities in Central and Upstate New York. When not working or volunteering, Courtney makes time to appreciate some simple pleasures, including spending time with friends and family, keeping up with a fitness routine at the local Orangetheory Fitness Studio, and hanging out at home with her beloved dogs Thomas and Coco.

“I am very proud of my accomplishments and the abilities my education and experiences have given me to make a difference in our community. I truly believe that if you want change, you need to participate in the process.  Both professionally and personally, I put everything I have into making a difference.  Sometimes, this includes stepping out of my comfort zone, but I believe that this is how real change is made.”

Courtney is currently facing opponents on the Democratic, Working Families, and Conservative Party lines. Democrats have an enrollment advantage in the district, which covers parts of DeWitt, East Syracuse, and a small corner of the City of Syracuse including Eastwood, Sedgwick and Northside neighborhoods.

Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/courtneyforleg/

Contributed by: Erin L.W. Zacholl

Who is responsible when your sewer line breaks in New York?

If you live in an older home built before the 1980’s, it is quite likely that your sewer line has by far exceeded its expected useful life and now it is not simply a matter of if it will fail, but when, leading to disastrous and expensive repairs. Most homeowners are not aware they are responsible for their sewer service lines.[1] In New York, homeowners are required to maintain the sewer lateral from their home to the main sewer line, typically located under the street or nearby easement area.[2]

When a homeowner is first made aware of a broken sewer line it is natural to assume that the municipality is responsible for the portion of the line located outside of the house and they are often frustrated when their local government refuses to provide assistance. So, why can’t a municipality help? In short, it is unconstitutional.

The New York State Constitution contains a provision specifically regulating gifts or loans of public monies to private persons and/or entities. Specifically the law states: “[n]o county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual, or private corporation, or association, or private undertaking….”[3] This provision limits a municipality’s expenditures to ensure that the focus of municipal spending is the public good and that municipal resources are used solely for governmental purposes. In other words, this clause serves as a way to control the use of municipal monies and resources.

Well, what is a public purpose then? A public purpose is defined as “something necessary for the common good and general welfare of the people of the municipality, sanctioned by its citizens [and] public character.”[4] If municipal resources are used to provide a purely private benefit, they are not being used for a governmental purpose.[5] This would be an unconstitutional gift from a municipality to a private entity or person.[6]

With respect to a homeowner’s sewer line, the municipality has no authority over it (does not own it) and has no responsibility to maintain it[7]. Therefore, without the legal obligation to maintain the sewer line, there is no governmental purpose, and any such use of public funding, resources (personnel), or equipment to maintain same would not be permissible because the intended beneficiary would be the private property owner, not the public.

In summary, if the municipality goes beyond the boundaries of its obligations, or acts in situations where it has no obligation, it is performing an act it had no duty to undertake. This, by definition, is not a government obligation.

So what can you do as a homeowner to minimize your risk of an expensive sewer repair? It is recommended you:

  1. Maintain your lateral through proper cleaning and timely repairs versus putting it off until the problem escalates into a bigger, more costly repair or replacement job.
  2. Do not place improper items into the sewer, including objects, fats, oils, grease, and the like.
  3. Consult a licensed plumber regarding the installation of a backflow preventer and cleanout into your sewer lateral.

[1] Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their water services lines as well.

[2] In some cases, the municipality may own a portion of the lateral from the connection between the main and a cleanout. A property owner should consult with the municipality before making any repairs or replacements.

[3] N.Y. Const. Art. VIII Section 1.

[4] Schulz v. Warren County Bd. of Supervisors, 179 A.D.2d 118, 122.

[5] Town of Rye, 280 N.Y. at 474.

[6] The mere presence of a private benefit does not automatically render the action invalid if the primary beneficiary of the municipal spending or use of municipal resource is the public. An incidental private benefit resulting from a municipal action does not violate the gift and loan clause so long as the primary purpose is for the public good.

[7] See Note 2 for the exception where a municipality does have a responsibility to maintain a portion of the lateral.


The aftermath of the financial and housing crises brought about new regulatory reforms to help prevent a re-occurrence. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in 2010 in direct response to the crisis and covered a variety of lending and financial reforms. It also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), a federal agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. Effective October 3, 2015, the CFPB issued a new rule that combines mortgage disclosures previously established by the Truth-in-Lending Act (“TILA”) and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) into a single rule known as the TILA-RESPA Disclosure Rule or “TRID”.

Q:        What does it mean for the consumer?

A:         Mortgages are complex and confusing. The TRID disclosure rule is designed to empower consumers with the information they need to make informed mortgage choices. In other words, it helps the borrower comparison shop for mortgages and avoids surprises at the closing table.

Q:        What transactions does TRID apply to?

A:         The new TRID rules applies to most closed-end consumer mortgage loans that are secured by a one to four unit dwelling attached to real property. It does not apply to home-equity lines of credit, reverse mortgage loans, mortgage loans secured by a mobile home or by a dwelling not attached to real property, such as land, or to creditors that write five (5) or fewer mortgages per year. A partial exemption is given to certain junior liens that are associated with housing assistance loans for low/moderate income consumers. Unlike many of the CFPB mortgage rules, TRID does not include an exception for small creditors.

Q:        What has changed?

A:         TRID combined the preliminary Truth in Lending (“TIL”) disclosure, the final TIL disclosure, the loan servicing disclosure, the Good Faith Estimate (“GFE”) and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement into just two (2) forms.

Q:        What are the two new forms?

A:         The two new forms are the Loan Estimate (“LE”) and the Closing Disclosure (“CD”).

Q:        What is the Loan Estimate?

A:         A lender is now required to provide a borrower the LE no later than the third business day after receiving the consumer’s application. The LE provides information about the interest rate, monthly payments, property tax and insurance escrows, closing costs, and the like. An application is deemed submitted when a consumer provides their (1) name; (2) monthly income; (3) social security number; (4) property address; (5) estimated value of property; and (6) requested loan amount. A lender may add additional requirements for a credit decision, but not for providing the LE. Notably, removed from the original definition of “application” was the all-encompassing seventh provision providing for “any other information deemed necessary by the loan originator.”

Q:        Can the consumer shop around after receiving the LE?

A:         Yes. A consumer may compare the terms on all the LE forms they received from different lenders to determine which loan is the best fit for them. Once a consumer has decided, they must notify the chosen lender that they intend to move forward with the loan.

Q:        What happens when the borrower notifies the lender to proceed with the loan?

A:         At that point the lender will begin the official loan approval process, obtain a real estate appraisal and order a property title examination (in New York title examination is initiated by the buyer’s attorney and the results are turned over to the lender’s attorney).

Q:        What is the Closing Disclosure form?

A:         The CD provides the borrower with all the final figures and amounts needed for closing, important contact information for the lender and service providers, the interest rate, monthly principal and interest, origination charges and a calculation of the cash needed to close. The lender must provide the CD at least three (3) days prior to closing.

Q:        Must the CD figures match those in the original LE?

A:         Generally, yes. The lender cannot change certain loan charges, such as the origination fee, the appraisal fee, the credit report fee, or fees for services the borrower could not shop for. Charges for escrows of real estate taxes and insurance, credits from seller and additional items discovered during a property inspection or walk-through can change as long as the borrower received an updated CD before closing. A lender must provide a new disclosure and start the service time over if there are any increases in the APR or changes in the loan product.

The rollout of the new TRID rules has been a bit bumpy. Lenders, real estate attorneys, and title companies have had to adjust to the new processes, deadlines and expectations, but hopefully the end result will be more transparency and clarity to what has become an increasingly complicated lending process.

Tax Benefits to Homeownership

For many people, owning a home is the fulfillment of the American dream. As a first-time homebuyer, buying gives you a feeling of starting a new chapter in life, perhaps a feeling of having “arrived.” But make no mistake, owning a home is a huge financial responsibility, probably the biggest you will ever have. Besides the mortgage payments, there is insurance, property taxes, maintenance and repair costs and so on.

The federal government knows just how big a deal owning a home is, so the tax code provides a number of benefits for people who own their own homes. Certain expenses are deductible. Let’s take a look at a few of those deductions.

Mortgage Interest

Your biggest tax break is reflected in the house payment you make each month. For most new homeowners, the bulk of that check goes toward interest, and all that interest is deductible (unless your loan is more than $1 million[1]).

Interest tax breaks do not end with your home’s first mortgage. If you pulled out extra cash through refinancing or took out a home equity loan or line of credit, you may be eligible for a deduction on that debt. Generally, equity debts of $100,000 or less are fully deductible.

Do you own multiple properties? Mortgage interest on a second home is also fully deductible. In fact, your additional property does not have to strictly be a home. It could be a boat or RV, as long as it has cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities. You can even rent out your second property for part of the year and still take full advantage of the mortgage interest tax deduction as long as you also spend some time there. Be careful however. If you do not vacation at least fourteen (14) days at your second property, or more than 10% of the number of days that you do rent it out (whichever is longer), the IRS could consider the place a residential rental property and you therefore would not be eligible for interest deduction.


Did you pay points to get a better home loan rate? They too offer a tax break. The only issue is exactly when you get to claim them. The IRS lets you deduct points in the year you paid them if, among other things, the loan is to purchase or build your main home, payment of points is an established business practice in your area and the points were within the usual range. Make sure your loan meets all the qualification requirements so that you can deduct points all at once.

A homeowner who pays points on a refinanced loan is also eligible for this tax break, but in most cases the points must be deducted over the life of the loan. So if you paid $2,000 in points to refinance your mortgage for 30 years, you can deduct $5.56 per monthly payment, or a total of $66.72 if you made 12 payments in one year on the new loan. The same rule applies to home equity loans or lines of credit. When the loan money is used for work on the house securing the loan, the points are deductible in the year the loan is taken out. But if you use the extra cash for something else, such as buying a car, the point deductions must be parceled out over the equity loan’s term.

Points paid on a loan secured by a second home or vacation residence, regardless of how the cash is used, must be amortized over the life of the loan.

Real Property Taxes

The other major deduction in connection with your home is real property taxes.

A big chunk of most monthly loan payments is the real property taxes, which go into an escrow account for payment once a year. This amount should be included on the annual statement you get from your lender, along with your loan interest information. These taxes will be an annual deduction as long as you own your home.

But if this is your first tax year in your house, dig out the settlement sheet you got at closing to find additional tax payment data. When the property was transferred from the seller to you, the year’s tax payments were divided so that each of you paid the taxes for that portion of the tax year during which you owned the home. Your share of these taxes is fully deductible.



Due to various tax benefits put in place by the government to encourage consumers to purchase homes, buying a home could be a very wise decision. Ultimately, taking advantage of these tax benefits can save you a great deal of money. Due to the various restrictions and conditions regarding these tax benefits, it is important to consult with one’s financial advisors or accountants to fully understand the benefits and opportunities of tax benefits to those who own homes.

[1] If you’re the proud owner of a multimillion-dollar mortgaged mansion, the IRS will limit your deductible interest.

What Is Title And Why Do You Need To Insure It?

When you purchase real estate, you are not literally handed a piece of land or home — you are given title. Title is the evidence that you are in lawful possession of that property.  How a home is titled can vary.  For example, title might be held as tenants by the entirety (each party owns an undivided 100% interest[1]), tenants in common (each party is assuming ownership of a certain stated percentage of the property as recited in the deed), as joint tenants with right of survivorship (the parties are deemed co-owners of the property whose rights in the real estate automatically transfer to one another at the time of death), or there might be a life estate in the home (where a party transfer title to another party, while retaining a right to use and live in the property until their death).  In addition, there are many uses for land and rights can be given or sold for such uses, i.e., other parties may own mineral, air, or utility rights on the property.  Other parties that may hold an interest include the following: lenders holding a mortgage, contractors who have filed a lien for unpaid work, judgment creditors, and governmental agencies who have filed liens against for unpaid taxes.

When you buy a home, or any property for that matter, you expect to enjoy certain benefits from ownership. For example, you expect to be able to occupy and use the property as you wish, to be free from debts or obligations not created or agreed to by you, and to be able to freely sell or pledge your property as security for a loan. A title search is a means of determining (by examining the public records) that the person who is selling the property actually has the right to sell it and that you are getting all the rights to the property (title) for which you are paying for. In addition, a title search will determine what limitations to ownership exist such as the scenarios described above.

So why is title insurance important if a title search can be conducted prior to closing and passing of title? That is a good question. Title insurance protects against claims from unknown defects at the time of closing. Unknown defects can include another person claiming an ownership interest, improperly recorded documents, fraud, forgery, and undiscovered liens, encroachments or easements that did not show up during the title search. The most common are:

  1. Errors in Public Records. Clerical or filing errors can affect the deed or survey of your property and cause undo financial strain in order to resolve them.
  1. Unknown Liens. Prior owners of your property may not have been meticulous bookkeepers or bill payers. And even though the former debt is not your own, banks or other financing companies can in some situations place liens on your property for unpaid debts even after you have closed on the sale. This is an especially worrisome issue with distressed properties.
  1. Illegal Deeds. While the chain of title to your property may appear clean (or clear), it is possible that a prior deed was made by an undocumented immigrant, a minor, a person of unsound mind, or one who is reported single but in actuality married. These instances may affect the enforceability of prior deeds, affecting prior (and possibly present) ownership.
  1. Missing Heirs. When a person dies, the ownership of his/her home may fall to heirs, or those named within their will. However, those heirs are sometimes missing or unknown at the time of death. Other times, family members may contest the will for their own property rights. These scenarios can happen long after you have purchased the property.
  1. Sometimes forged or fabricated documents that affect property ownership are filed within public records, obscuring the rightful ownership of the property. Once these forgeries come to light, your rights to your home may be in jeopardy.
  1. Undiscovered Encumbrances. At the time of purchase, you may not know that a third party holds a claim to all or part of your property, such as a former mortgage or lien, or non-financial claims, like restrictions or covenants limiting the use of your property.
  1. Unknown Easements. You may own your new home and its surrounding land, but an unknown easement may prohibit you from using it as you desire, or could permit government agencies, businesses, or other parties to access all or portions of your property. While usually a non-financial issue, easements can still affect your right to enjoy your property.
  1. Boundary/Survey Disputes. You may have seen a survey of your property prior to purchasing, however, other surveys may exist that show differing boundaries. Therefore, a neighbor or other party may be able to claim ownership to a portion of your property.
  1. Undiscovered Last Will and Testament. When a property owner dies with no apparent will or heir, the state may sell his or her assets, including the home. When you purchase such a home, you assume your rights as owner. However, even years later, the deceased owner’s will may come to light and your rights to the property may be seriously jeopardized.
  1. False Impersonation of Previous Owner. Common and similar names can make it possible to falsely “impersonate” a property owner. If you purchase a home that was once sold by a false owner, you can risk losing your legal claim to the property.

Purchasers and lenders need title insurance in order to be insured against any property loss or damage they might experience due to such possible title defects. If you are taking out a loan to buy your home, the lender will require you to purchase lender’s title insurance to cover its investment, but the lender’s policy will only cover the outstanding amount of the loan at the time a claim is made. You also want to make sure you have a policy that covers your interest, called an owner’s policy. When purchased together, the owner’s policy is a relatively inexpensive addition. Also unlike other types of insurance, title insurance premiums are a one-time fee and paid at closing and passing of title. Given the benefits and minimal cost, play it safe and protecting your investment with title insurance.

[1] This form of ownership is strictly limited to married couples in New York.

When You Need A Zoning Variance

Many homeowners dream of increasing the size of their home, whether it be erecting an addition or second story, installing a pool, building a detached garage or adding a deck, and the like. The challenge lies in turning those dreams into reality.

One reason is that homeowners must confront zoning limitations –rules in villages, towns and cities that regulate everything from the height of a house, to the number of structures permitted on a property, to a distance of a home or accessory structure from the property line. Zoning laws are a municipality’s guide to future development and to protect residents and property owners from undesirable development.

Dealing with zoning restrictions can be frustrating for homeowners. However, if your plans do not conform to the zoning regulations, there is something you can do. Note that something is not ignoring the rules or trying to get zoning approved after the fact.[1] What you can do however is seek a variance of the zoning rules.

A “variance” is permission granted by the municipality so that the property may be used in a manner not permitted by zoning. In New York, municipalities have what is referred to as the Zoning Board of Appeals. It is an administrative body established by the municipality’s legislative body to hear appeals from decisions or actions taken by the municipality’s code enforcement officer[2] or to render interpretations of zoning provisions. Only the Zoning Board of Appeals has the power to grant a variance of the zoning regulations, and since zoning is meant to implement the municipality’s development objectives and protect the health, safety and general welfare of the residents, there are strict rules governing when variances may be issued.

There are two types of variances – “use” and “area.” The rules for each are different, and as such will be discussed separately below.

Use Variance

A use variance grants permission to the owner to do what the use regulations prohibit – in other words, use the property in such a way that is not permitted by the zoning regulations. Examples include, permitting a commercial use in a residential district, or permitting a multiple dwelling in a district limited to single-family homes, or permitting an industrial use in a district limited to commercial uses.

In the case of a use variance, the power of the Zoning Board of Appeals must be exercised very carefully to avoid conflict with the overall zoning scheme for the community. Therefore the showing required for entitlement to a use variance is very difficult. If requesting a use variance the applicant must prove “unnecessary hardship.” To prove this, State law[3] requires the applicant to show all of the following:

  • that the property is incapable of earning a reasonable return on initial investment if used for any of the allowed uses in the zoning district (actual “dollars and cents” proof must be submitted);
  • that the property is being affected by unique, or at least highly uncommon circumstances;
  • that the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood; and
  • that the hardship is not self-created.

If any one or more of the above factors is not proven, State law requires that the Zoning Board of Appeals deny the variance.

Area Variance

An area variance is permission to build or erect in an otherwise restricted portion of the property (such as in the required front, side or rear yard setback areas, or above the required building height, or in excess of the lot coverage regulations). In the case of an area variance, State law requires the applicant to show that the benefit the applicant stands to receive from the variance will outweigh any burden to the health, safety and welfare that may be suffered by the community. State law requires the Zoning Board of Appeals to take the following factors into consideration in making its determination:

  • whether an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood, or a detriment to nearby properties will be created by the grant of the area variance;
  • whether the benefit sought by the applicant can be achieved by some other method which will be feasible for the applicant to pursue but would not require a variance;
  • whether the requested area variance is substantial;
  • whether the proposed variance will have an adverse effect or impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood or district; and
  • whether an alleged difficulty is self-created.

Unlike the use variance test, the applicant does not have to satisfy every one of the above questions. Rather, the Zoning Board of Appeals must merely take each one of the factors into account. The Zoning Board of Appeals may also decide that a lesser variance than the one requested would be appropriate, or may decide that there are alternatives available to the applicant which would not require a variance.

Conditions Imposed on Variance

If a Zoning Board of Appeals decides to grant a use or area variance, State law requires the board to grant the minimum variance necessary to provide relief, while at the same time taking care to protect the character of the neighborhood and the health, safety and welfare of the community. For those same reasons, the board may also impose reasonable conditions on the grant of any variance. Such conditions must be directly related to and incidental to the proposed use of the property however.

Referrals to a Planning Agency

In some instances, an application for a variance must be referred elsewhere for recommendation before making a final decision. State law requires that in any city, town or village located in a county which has a county planning agency, or within the jurisdiction of a metropolitan or regional planning council, any board charged with taking certain zoning or planning actions must before making such action refer them to that county, metropolitan or regional planning agency or council.

Environmental Quality Review

In addition to the specific variance criteria outlined above, the Zoning Board of Appeals must also adhere to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, better known as “SEQRA”. SEQRA is a process that requires systematic consideration of environmental factors early in the planning states of actions that are directly undertaken, funded or approved by local, regional and state agencies.


The above rules and standards have been set forth in law and by the courts of New York State, and therefore a Zoning Board of Appeals may not deviate from them. If the rules are not followed, a municipality exposes itself to litigation.

Applicants and their representatives should understand the appropriate legal standards in deciding whether an appeal would be appropriate, and if an appeal is taken, the applicant should present clear, definite facts showing that the standards have been met.


[1] A homeowner may be forced to tear down any structure erected illegally regardless of the expense.

[2] An exception occurs where an applicant has already submitted an application for subdivision, site plan, or special use permit approval which requires an area variance in connection with that approval. In those instances, no decision of the code enforcement officer is necessary.

[3] Found under (NY) General City Law, Town Law, and Village Law.


Property taxes are a primary source of revenue for many local governments. They are also a significant expense for homeowners. Even after you have paid off your mortgage, property taxes remain. That is why it is important to understand your property tax bill. If you know how it is calculated, you will have an idea of what your bill should be each year, allowing you to budget accordingly, avoid surprises and spot any costly errors on your bill.

So how are property taxes calculated?

Your property tax bill is based on the assessed value of your property, any exemptions you qualify for and a property tax rate. People sometimes think that their municipality’s assessor sets property taxes. This is not true. The assessor’s role is only to determine what the market value is for your property using a market, cost, or income approach, depending on the type of property. Once the assessor has determined your market value, the assessor then calculates your assessed value, which is a simple mathematical calculation that multiplies the market value by a predetermined Uniform Percentage of Value (“UPV”) set by the State of New York. The UPV provides a standardized assessment calculation to ensure that every property receives an equitable assessment. So for example, if the UPV is 40%, and your market value is $500,000, your assessed value would be $200,000 ($500,000 multiplied by 40%).

What if you disagree with your assessment?

Once the assessor has determined the assessed value of all the properties in a municipality, he or she will publish what is referred to as the “tentative assessment roll,” which is a comprehensive listing of all properties, their determined market value, and their assessed value. For most municipalities in New York, the tentative assessment roll is published in the first week of May. If you disagree with your assessment you must file a complaint seeking an Administrative Review of your assessment by the deadline established by your municipality. The deadline is usually a few weeks after the tentative assessment roll is published – typically the fourth Tuesday of May and it is referred to as “Grievance Day.” This process is referred to as “grieving” your assessment. There is no cost to grieve an assessment and it does not require you to hire an attorney.

How do you file a complaint seeking Administrative Review of your assessment?

Outside of New York City and Nassau County, a grievant must use Form RP-524 entitled “Complaint on Real Property Assessment. You can find the form here https://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/current_forms/orpts/rp524_fill_in.pdf. File the completed form and any supporting documents justifying your request with the assessor or the board of assessment review with your municipality. Please note if your property is located within a village that assesses property, you will have two assessments – one for the village and one for the town. If you wish to grieve both assessments you will need to complete and submit separate RP-524 forms to each municipality. Be sure to check with your municipality as to submission deadlines and the date of Grievance Day. In most municipalities the deadline is Grievance Day. If you do not file the RP-524 form by the deadline, you will lose the opportunity for an Administrative Review and a Judicial Review.

Who determines whether or not the relief requested should be granted?

Each municipality has a board of assessment review (“BAR”). The BAR is a quasi-judicial body charged with the judicial responsibility to hear grievances against the current assessment role, obtain the facts, and apply the law. The BAR consists of not less than three (3) and no more than five (5) members appointed by the municipality’s legislative body. Members must possess knowledge of property values in the municipality and initial appointees and reappointees must attend training sessions taught by a county director of real property tax services. Neither the assessor, nor any members of his or her staff, may be appointed to the BAR.

Who can grieve an assessment?

Any person who pays property taxes can grieve an assessment. This includes not only property owners, but also purchasers under contract to purchase the subject property, and tenants who are required to pay taxes pursuant to a lease or written agreement.

What if you do not reside in the municipality where the property is situate?

A non-resident owner can request a date after Grievance Day for the grievance hearing but must submit the RP-524 form on or before the regularly scheduled Grievance Day. Requests must be made to the assessor or BAR on or before Grievance Day and the BAR must set a date no later than twenty-one (21) days after Grievance Day for the hearing.

Can you grieve more than one year?

No. Only the assessment on the current tentative assessment roll can be grieved – you cannot grieve assessments from prior years.

Can the assessor reduce an assessment prior to Grievance Day?

Yes. On or prior to Grievance Day, a complainant and the assessor may stipulate to a reduced assessment of the value of the subject property. To do so, Part Six of the RP-524 form must be completed and signed. Note however if you enter into a stipulation, a complainant may not ask the BAR for a further reduction in your assessment. Further more, if the agreed upon reduced assessment appears on the final assessment roll, a complainant will not be permitted to seek an even lower assessment through the Judicial Review process (see below for explanation on Judicial Review).

Do you have to appear at the BAR hearing on Grievance Day?

No, but a complainant does have the right to attend the hearing and present statements and/or documentation in support of their grievance. A complainant may appear personally, with or without an attorney or other representative. If a complainant chooses to be represented by an attorney or other representative, they must authorize that person to appear on their behalf by signing Part Four of the RP-524 form. Note however the BAR may require a complainant or their representative to appear personally, or to submit additional evidence. If a complainant refuses the BAR’s request, the BAR can deny the complainant’s request for a reduction in assessment based on such refusal.

When do you find out whether or not your request has been granted?

A complainant will receive a written notice of the BAR’s determination (except where the BAR ratifies a stipulated assessment). The notice must contain a statement of the reasons for the BAR’s determination.

What if you do not receive the requested relief?

If a complainant is dissatisfied with the decision of the BAR, they may seek Judicial Review of the assessment via Small Claims Assessment Review (“SCAR”) in Small Claims Court or a Tax Certiorari proceeding. SCAR is only available to: property owners who live in their one, two or three family dwellings that are used exclusively for residential purposes or owners of vacant land that is not of sufficient size to contain a one, two or three family dwelling. For information on SCAR see the New York State Unified Court System website at https://www.nycourts.gov/litigants/scar/. Tax Certiorari proceedings are for all other scenarios and are commenced in NY Supreme Court pursuant to Article 7 of the Real Property Tax Law. It is highly recommended a complainant hire an attorney for a Tax Certiorari proceeding.

What is the deadline for Judicial Review of the BAR’s determination?

SCAR and Tax Certiorari proceedings must be initiated within thirty (30) days of the filing of the final assessment roll or notice of such filing, whichever is later.

In summary, the property tax grievance is not as complicated as most property owners believe. It only requires a little bit of research, completing the RP-524 form, and submitting same before the deadline.


When it comes to buying and selling real estate, there are certain situations where it helps to have a qualified legal professional on your side. If you are looking to get into real estate investing, attempting to purchase a short sale or foreclosure, or having unexpected complications with a simple transaction, it may be time to hire a real estate attorney. The question is why you should not go out and hire the cheapest attorney you can find.

Legal representation of exceptional quality should be the most important criterion when searching for an attorney and it will lead to the most favorable outcome possible. Any New York licensed attorney, may engage in real estate transactions within the state with minimal or no additional training. However, real estate law is known for its complexity. Attorneys who are unfamiliar with the complexities of real estate transactions may encounter problems when overseeing a real estate transfer. So avoid hiring “the dabbler” to help you buy or sell real estate. “The dabbler” is the attorney whose practice is 1% real estate and 99% everything else. A real estate attorney is a lawyer whose primary practice is real estate. The attorney may work in other areas of law, but the main focus is on residential and/or commercial real estate transactions.

Once you have narrowed down your search to real estate attorneys, you should consider experience. Generally, the more complicated the transaction is, the more experienced you want your attorney to be. Every real estate transaction is different and it is to your advantage to find an attorney who is experienced in handling situations similar to yours. Choosing an attorney who is familiar with the type of transaction involved works in your favor, since they already understand the potential problems that can arise and how to head them off. Just keep in mind that you may end up paying more for the services of an attorney who has been practicing for ten or twenty years than you would for one who is two or three years out of law school, which leads to the point of this article – price is an important consideration when it comes to choosing a real estate attorney but it should not be the only one.

You have to ask yourself what are you getting for your money? In addition, to experience you should consider how accessible your real estate attorney will be throughout the process. If you are considering hiring a larger firm to help you purchase or sell your house, it is a good idea to know whether anyone else will be working on your transaction besides your attorney. In some instances, part of the workload may be handed over to paralegals or junior attorneys so you need to be sure that you are comfortable with who has access to your information and how accessible your attorney will be to answer your questions and address your concerns. Communication is key to a good working relationship with your attorney and you need to feel confident that they will be able to address your concerns if and when they arise.

At Primo & Hills Law Firm, we recognize we are not the cheapest attorneys that you could hire.  We do not try to be, we do not want to be and frankly picking an attorney based on how little they charge is a terrible way to choose a lawyer.  At Primo & Hills Law Firm, we strive to provide the highest quality legal representation as well as the finest customer service possible.  There is no way that we could possibly do that on the cheap. You would never consider choosing a surgeon based on who is cheapest, so why would you consider choosing your lawyer exclusively on price? Consult with us, check out our website, and consider our experience level with your type of transaction.  While cost is certainly a component of the decision, effective learned counsel should be your primary goal.

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