Petition: Landlords should go on “tax strike” to counter rent strike

Missive with nearly 1,400 signatures says government is encouraging tenants not to pay

(Credit: iStock,
(Credit: iStock,

In response to rent strikes, some landlords are threatening a strike of their own.

An online petition headlined “Property Tax relief or Tax strike” has collected nearly 1,400 signatures supporting a call for landlords to withhold their New York City property taxes. The petition blasts politicians for enabling tenants to not pay rent even if they can.

“We all know that there are tenants that can pay their rent, many of whom are getting severance, all of whom are getting stimulus checks and increased unemployment,” the petition reads. “They aren’t paying, because govt encourages that behavior.”

It also criticizes proposed legislation which would forgive rent and mortgage payments.

The tax strike petition is not endorsed by any real estate industry trade group. Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement program, said he did not recognize any signers’ names. There is no mechanism for verifying the identities of signatories or the petition organizer.

“I completely understand the frustration but I think it’s as unhelpful as pushing for a rent strike,” said Martin. “We need real leadership and real solutions.”

Some elected officials have urged tenants to pay rent if they are able. “If you can pay the rent, you should pay the rent,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday in Corona, Queens. “There’s a morality in this.”

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also said he disagrees with a rent strike.

But the statements from Cuomo and de Blasio did not satisfy purported petition author Garold Wilder, who wrote, “A responsible landlord can and will work something out with the tenant, but the govt doesn’t give the landlord any tools to do so.. instead, they align with the tenants and that becomes a blanket rule, so any tenants that can pay, now won’t.”

A message left at a listed number for Wilder was not returned. It could not be determined who he is or how a property tax strike would even work, given that tax payments are typically folded into landlords’ mortgage payments and held in escrow by their lenders, who then pay the tax bill.

The petition follows a call for a rent strike in May to compel the state government to cancel rent and mortgage payments. One rent strike organizer said the intent was also to pressure the state to help landlords. But landlord leaders reacted bitterly, with one calling the strike “disgusting.”

The last time New York saw revenue from property taxes and other sources dwindle, leaving the city on the verge of bankruptcy in the 1970s, Lewis Rudin organized other developers to prepay their taxes. Politics have shifted dramatically since then, but the city continues to rely on property taxes, its largest source of revenue.

Many in the real estate industry have called for a reduction in taxes to offset diminished rent collections during the coronavirus. But the city is struggling to close a $7.5 billion deficit, and property taxes make up about a third of its tax revenue.

Jeff Golkin, a tax attorney at Jeffrey Golkin Partners, said that the city’s Tax Commission should allow for hearings in-person — or by phone or Zoom — to reduce assessments on a case-by-case basis. But tax assessments are based on the previous year’s income, which leaves little room for an immediate, pandemic-related reduction. The deadline to appeal 2020-2021 assessment has passed.

“You shouldn’t judge properties today based on the financial situation last year,” said Golkin, who suggested that in-person hearings could have a better outcome for landlords seeking to get a coronavirus-related assessment reduction. “What we have found is that there are judges and hearing officers who believe, as I do, that there has to be an acknowledgement or a judicial notice of that crisis — and do something about it.”