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Helping owners contain tax costs.

Now that the tentative assessment roll for New York City is out, certiorari attorney Eric Weiss is in high gear.

The 42-year-old Weiss has devoted his practice to helping building owner clients who want to protest their tentative assessments by representing them in administrative and judicial hearings.

While the city assessments are lower this year, many complain it is too little too late. Experts acknowledge that while the decline was expected, no one in the real estate industry believes that lower assessments have gone far enough to compensate for the reduction in rents and income.

"In this atmosphere of declining values, it is important to challenge tentative assessments," said Weiss, a director of the Real Estate Tax Review Bar Association. "One expense a property owner has an opportunity to do something about is to make an application to reduce his tentative real estate tax assessment.

"It all boils down to having the hearing and, if necessary, being able to challenge the result of the hearing with the corporation counsel," Weiss continued.

Weiss argues that under diverse market conditions, it is doubtful that city assessors have lowered all property assessments in proper relation to their declining market value prior to the publication of the tentative assessment roll.

Property taxes throughout the city are levied in July based upon an assessment roll, which is open for inspection by building owners beginning Jan. 15. Owners of large property have until March 1 to file if they wish to challenge the assessment.

"A challenge to the tentative assessment is the only weapon property owners have left against even higher tax bills," said Weiss, who graduated magna cum laude from New York Law School. "The determination by the city is not simple. At times, the city is wrong. The city is closer to being right more and more in assessments, but, at times, it is still wrong."

According to Weiss, who has practiced real estate certiorari for 10 years, real estate assessment protests play a crucial role in controlling costs for building owners, as well as allowing budget preparations for the coming year. Weiss noted that increases in steam bills, higher water and sewage charges, and also fuel prices, all contribute to buildings not realizing profits as they have in the past.

After seeing the assessment roll, Weiss observed, building owners who want to challenge the tentative assessment need to file a notarized application in the assessor's office of the borough in which the property is located prior to March 1.

"It is important to consult with a real estate tax professional as soon as possible to determine prospects for a reduction, "Weiss said.

As a rule of thumb, he added, about one-third of assessments are high, one-third are low and one-third are correct.

"People with substantial property should have someone professional to see if they are being over-assessed," Weiss advised. "A lay person isn't going to know. The concept is a simple process but fighting it is not so simple."

Protecting Rights

A major service provided by Weiss is to ensure that implementation and interpretation of the regulations involved in preparing and filing the forms required by the city are done properly in order to maintain his client's rights.

Income and expense forms are now mandated for all income producing properties, including some co-ops, he said, and failure to file these forms in September could result in an inability to challenge the tentative assessment roll when it becomes available in January.

"There are many rules which have only been in effect for the last few years and some property owners still haven't realized they must comply with the regulations," said Weiss. "It does not matter what other services I can provide, if that form is defective."

For instance. Weiss emphasized, if a client's income and expense statement is not filed, or filed late, or is defective, the client will not receive a hearing on the property's assessment challenge at the tax commission and the client could also be subject to a substantial financial penalty.

Weiss explained that a key to his success in challenging assessments is having the capacity to analyze each property on a case-by-case basis, including having direct access to Department of Finance information on all Class II and Class IV properties in the City of New York, which gives him the ability to thoroughly prepare for assessment protests.

"Everything is done on computer except that I look over everything and we fact check data files constantly," Weiss said. "The analysis and workup of the client's data is also done personally by me, unlike at other firms which rely heavily on support staff to workup cases."

Weiss was exposed to tax certiorari at an early age, mostly through his father, Jesse Weiss, a former partner with Schwartz & Weiss, known today as Schwartz Weiss Steckler & Hoffman.

The younger Weiss was associated with Schwartz & Weiss until 1988, and it was there that he first realized the value of computers. He computerized the office and was able to develop computer programs designed strictly for certiorari, a system he has continually upgraded on his own.

"The computer can carry forward the building's expenses and trends so that I can give my clients a good idea of what their taxes will be for several years from now," Weiss said. 'It also helps make my case at the Tax Commission." Weiss noted that the computer has an integrated data base tied into the city's data which allows him to run an economic analysis of comparables, as well as workups of transition assessments.

Although Weiss typically wOrks six to seven days a week, he does make time for his family. He is careful, however, not to participate in sports where he might be injured, thus, depriving his clients of his service.

"I don't go skiing on the theory that I might break my leg," he said.

If someone asks about his bowling game, Weiss laughs, recalling how he fell and broke his ankle while bowling with his daughter. It didn't slow him down, though, and he ended up hobbling about the Department of Finance office on crutches.

A graduate of Trinity College with a BA in psychology, Weiss gained valuable experience managing a rock band for four years and also owned a booking and management agency in Boston. In fact, the group, The Outerspace Band, performed at the White House at Susan Ford's prom.

"I always had to be on my feet thinking and dealing with problems that came up," said Weiss. "It was a very fluid situation, very diverse."

While handling rock groups, magicians, and even a mime, Weiss realized that law school was calling him. "I got to the point where I decided I could not do better for my clients without becoming an attorney,' he said. "Actually, it was a great background, I was dealing with contracts and had already written hundreds of contracts before I went to law school.'

Today, Weiss is a member of the Real Estate Section of the New York State Bar Association. He previously served a three-year term on the Condemnation and Tax Certiorari Committee of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York and also was the chairman of a sub-committee, which made recommendations to the New York City Department of Finance on Local Law 63.
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Title Annotation:attorney Eric S. Weiss centers practice around representation of building owner clients protesting tax assessments
Author:Alger, Derek
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Biography
Date:Feb 10, 1993
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