State Controller Thomas DiNapoli said assessing properties without the required physical inspections raises the risk that valuations are incorrect, creating unfair rewards or penalties for property owners.
ALBANY — A state audit on Thursday criticized the city’s Department of Finance for determining property values without actually inspecting the properties.
The audit by state Controller Thomas DiNapoli revealed that in 54% of the cases reviewed, assessors with the Department of Finance’s Property Division failed to make the required on-site inspections before determining a value for the property.
“Without the required physical inspections, DOF’s ability to adequately assess properties is limited,” the audit stated. “Further, this increases the risk that valuations are materially incorrect, thereby unfairly rewarding or penalizing certain property owners.”
The controller’s audit looked at 508 residential parcels assessed by the city from 2014 through 2016 and found no record of any inspections in 276 of them. Many of the properties, the audit found, had not been inspected in 10 years or more.
DiNapoli’s auditors also found that assessors in some circumstances failed to consider enough comparable properties in the neighborhood or changed their valuation methods from year to year with little rationale for doing so.
"It’s important that New Yorkers have confidence that the assessment process is fair,” said DiNapoli spokesman Matthew Sweeney. “The Department of Finance needs to do a better job of explaining and justifying decisions that affect homeowners’ pocketbooks."
(L.) Timothy Sheares, Department of Finance commissioner, said in a letter to the audit that the agency was meeting state guidelines for inspections and assessments, and was working to improve its documentation procedures to better demonstrate that it was doing so.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a written response to DiNapoli’s audit, Deputy Finance Commissioner Timothy Sheares argued that the agency was meeting state guidelines for inspections and assessments, and was working to improve its documentation procedures to better demonstrate that it was doing so.
The controller’s audit is the latest controversy to engulf the department’s Property Division. In April, broad coalition of civil justice leaders, homeowners and landlords filed a lawsuit against the department charging that its assessments were racially biased.
The group Tax Equity Now NY claimed city’s system violates the state and U.S. Constitution by treating different property owners differently.
Mayor de Blasio has agreed the system needs to be changed but criticized the lawsuit, saying it will lead to years of litigation.