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A local legislator lambasted the city’s Department of Finance (DOF) for letting delinquent property owners exploit lien loopholes and flout payments, cheating the city out of thousands of dollars.

According to State Senator Tony Avella, indebted property owners can be removed from the annual tax lien sale — the city’s list of properties with unpaid taxes — if they submit a check or enter into a payment plan, even if the check later bounces. He said those that submit bad checks leave only with a slap on the wrist — a $20 penalty.

“This makes a mockery of the property tax system and the tax lien system in the city of New York,” Avella said. “Meanwhile, all these properties are surrounded by good, honest homeowners who pay their property taxes on time. This is an insult to them.”

Three homes in Whitestone alone, Avella said, owe the city between $17,000 and $25,000 in unpaid property taxes. The owner of one site on 24-19 Francis Lewis Boulevard stopped paying taxes in 2009, the senator claimed, and was removed from the tax liens sale when the DOF received a check that later bounced. Another owner of a home on 149-35 12th Avenue, Avella said, had submitted bad checks to the DOF for three years straight and still has not been added to the list.

“It is mind-boggling then that Finance would keep trusting these owners who have shown no regard to the rule of law or the community,” said Avella, who introduced legislation that would mandate that the city only accept payments from repeat offenders made by certified check or money order. The bill would also require a 20 percent down payment for any proposed installment plan.

Debra Feinberg, the DOF’s director of government relations, said the agency has controls in place this year to check for bounced checks. Once found, if a property owner submits a faulty check, she said they are put back into the lien sale.

 

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