A reason to always read the fine print: Clinton Hill townhouse owners are stuck paying $1,000 per year for their stoops

By Virginia K. Smith  | January 26, 2017 - 3:59PM

With so little outdoor space to call our own, those of us who have stoops tend to treat them like something of a scared space. (In fact, we can get downright territorial about it.) So one can see why a group of Clinton Hill townhouse owners were taken aback upon realizing that they didn't technically own their front stoops, and have to shell out a special tax to the city for the privilege of keeping them.

A recent lawsuit brought the issue to light, as the New York Post reports, with a group of owners at the State Street Townhouses suing the city for what they alleged was an illegal side deal between the developers and the city. The deal is what's known as a "revocable consent agreement," in which the city agrees to allow a structure on public lands, but with the option to revoke access at its own discretion. In this case, the city allowed the developer to extend the stoops six feet beyond the legal property line, in exchange for a special extra tax to be paid to the city by the owners of the townhouses. One resident told the Post that he now pays $1,154 every year in taxes, just for the privilege of using the stoop of his multi-million dollar home.

Some of the homeowners say they were aware of the tax when they purchased, though some were not until recently. Either way, a lawyer for the owners has called the arrangement "inconceivable," given that it gives the city the right, at least in theory, to revoke access and remove the stoops at any time. (Though the city's document on revocable consent simply states that these agreements can be granted for "allow private use or improvements" on city streets and sidewalks, the homeowners' attorney counters that these agreements should be saved for temporary structures such as scaffolding.) 

However, a judge recently ruled in favor of the city on this one, and a city Law Department representative told the Post: "The city enters into hundreds of these ‘revocable consent’ agreements to facilitate the construction of housing. Over the last several decades, the city has revoked less than a handful." Meaning, then, that will the city does retain the right to tear out the stoops, it would be highly unusual for them to do so. Indeed, more than the threat of a messy removal—which doesn't seem to be on the city's agenda—homeowners seem largely concerned with the extra tax burden involved.

While the homeowners are reportedly mulling whether or not to appeal the recent decision or to sue the developer, let this be a lesson to any prospective buyer: Don't get to the closing without having an experienced attorney go over everything with a fine-toothed comb.

Details of the arrangement were reportedly included in the sales contract at the time of purchase, so regardless of whether or not the setup is truly legal, closing attorneys and brokers should have made sure  the buyers were going into this situation with eyes wide open. No one wants to be blindsided by an unexpected tax—or the removal of their stoop.


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