Council members blocked from joining property tax battle

Corporation council can't defend two sides
February 09, 2018 09:30AM

Mayor Bill de Blasio with his wife, Chirlane McCray, on Election Day, Nov. 7

A New York State Supreme Court judge this week barred several City Council members from joining a lawsuit that accuses the city’s property tax system of disproportionately hurting minority residents.

Five Council members filed a friend of the court brief in support of a lawsuit against the city and state seeking to overhaul the city’s property tax system. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration argued that the group shouldn’t be permitted to join the case, and the judge agreed, the New York Daily News reported.

The judge ruled that the Council members are required under the city charter to be represented by the city’s corporation council — which is defending the de Blasio administration against the lawsuit. Those Council members represent mostly non-white districts.

“If I conclude that a property tax system is discriminating against my constituents, then I have a right to challenge that system,” Council member Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), one of the signers, told the Daily News. “I reject the premise of the decision. I reject the premise that the will of the mayor is synonymous with the best interests of New York City.”

Tax Equity Now — a group that includes the Rent Stabilization Association, prominent landlords and social welfare groups such as the NAACP and the Black Institute — filed the lawsuit last year, alleging that its property-tax system discriminates against low-income homeowners and landlords.

A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department said council members can intervene as private citizens but not as elected officials.

“We are not opposed to the effort by these council members to be heard on this important issue to the extent that they represent their views as individuals and not as city officials representing the legal position of the City of New York,” spokesperson Nick Paolucci said. [NYDN] — Kathryn Brenzel