Five years ago, David Hannig bought a 2,400-square-foot, 3-bedroom contemporary house on Gadwall Lane in Manlius for $399,900.
His annual local property tax bill is $18,399.
Less than a quarter of a mile away, a similar Gadwall Lane house sold for the same price. Its taxes: $9,557.
Why such a difference? Hannig’s neighbor’s house is classified as a condominium, a simple act that saves a lucky group of homeowners statewide huge amounts on New York’s notoriously high property taxes.
Savvy builders across New York are taking advantage of a loophole in state law that allows all kinds of homes to be called condominiums. That requires them to be assessed at a lower value than traditional single-family homes.
More than 100,000 condos in Upstate New York are cashing in on the tactic. Their owners are taking an average 36 percent discount on their assessments, according to a Syracuse.com analysis of thousands of assessment and sales records.
Upstate condo owners avoid at least $330 million a year in property taxes, leaving their neighbors to pick up the slack to pay for schools and local government.
Often it means giving a property tax break to the people who need it the least.
This tactic has spread around the state to wherever builders know the trick — from the Buffalo suburbs to the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County. Yes, that Trump.
The condo break has almost no public benefit. Yet it goes mostly unnoticed by neighbors, unchallenged in Albany and is ridiculed by the town assessors who struggle to administer it.
Billionaire Tom Golisano, who founded the Paychex company in his hometown of Rochester, has mounted a campaign to challenge what he considers a shoddy system of property tax assessments in New York. Of all the system’s faults, he said, the condo discount is worst.
The people charged with keeping property taxes fair for everyone agree.
“Right now, somebody who buys a condominium doesn’t pay taxes on what their property is worth,” Syracuse Assessor David Clifford said. “It just seems to me a blatant inequity built into the real property tax law.”
Video: Christa Lemczak
Reporting: Michelle Breidenbach
Video/Photos: Google Earth • Dennis Nett • Michael Greenlar
Michelle Breidenbach • Gloria Wright
Music: “Progress” by juqboxmusic