After many years of experience in Real Estate Litigation, Steve Davis concentrates in practice in New York tax certiorari. He leads our Tax Certiorari & Condemnation group and represents owners of income producing and development property to redress their grievances against governmental abuse by municipalities. This interest manifests itself principally in the areas of tax certiorari law (real property assessment appeals) and land use. In addition, Steve’s assessment reduction expertise has led him in recent years to cases involving top valued residences in the County’s most affluent municipalities.
From the initial filing of an assessment grievance or protest through the settlement or trial of a tax certiorari or condemnation proceeding, Steve helps his clients succeed. He counts to his credit many millions of dollars of tax refunds and savings for his many clients, which include shopping centers, office buildings, apartment buildings, and industrial propertyies. Steve’s Real Estate Litigation expertise benefits his land use clients with added property value through obtaining land use theretofore unjustly denied or through overturning theretofore improper over-regulation.
Stephen Davis, who head our Tax Certiorari & Condemnation group, successfully reduced the tax assessment for a client in a Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) proceeding. Here, on behalf of the owners of one of the highest valued one-family residences in Scarsdale, Steve tried the SCAR proceeding, successfully contesting the Assessor’s assertion of a $9,679,700 value. SCAR limits assessment reduction to 25% of the contested assessed value. Steve achieved the maximum permitted reduction, with the Court Hearing Officer rejected the Town’s assertion of greatly added value attributed to the basketball half-court located in the basement. He did so, perhaps on the basis of Steve’s observation at trial of the court’s suitability for no more than free-throws and lay-ups.
Representing the owner of a high end, two tenant, 20,000 sq. ft. industrial building in Mamaroneck’s “Flats,” the Village’s industrial area, Stephen Davis, who heads up the firm’s Tax Certiorari & Condemnation group, successfully negotiated settlement of multiple annual tax certiorari proceedings, reducing the Town assessments by 45% and the Village assessments by 55%. In a second case this year (11/4/11), Steve achieved comparable reductions for another warehouse in “The Flats.” Steve successfully presented to the two Assessors and to the Town’s and Village’s tax certiorari counsel, evidence that the 2007 March and April floods significantly depressed market value in the area, and continues to do so. Adding to the prior flooding the deluge created by recent Hurricane Irene, these days “The Flats” of Mamaroneck seem to be referred to as the Sheldrake River flood plain. This reputation for repeated severe flooding engenders greatly reduced values for the many warehouse buildings of this once prime lower Westchester industrial area.
Berkson & Walisever v. Assessor of Town of Scarsdale, Westchester (SCAR Index# 3385/14)
Tax Certiorari & Condemnation – Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) – Reduced Assessment on Highly-Valued Property
Our Tax Certiorari & Condemnation lawyers understand that, in Westchester, highly-valued properties sometimes brings on excessive tax assessment. Here, Stephen Davis, on behalf of the owners of one of the highest valued one-family residences in Scarsdale, tried the Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) proceeding contesting the Assessor’s assertion of a $9,679,700 value. SCAR limits assessment reduction to 25% of the contested assessed value. Steve achieved the maximum permitted reduction, obtaining after trial a revised assessment of $7,259,775. The Court Hearing Officer rejecting the Town’s assertion of greatly added value attributed to the basketball half-court located in the basement. He did so, perhaps on the basis of Steve’s observation at trial of the court’s suitability for no more than free-throws and lay-ups.
Matter of Compulsory Interim Accounting Proceeding in the Estate of Jacob Heller, Surrogate’s Court, Westchester County (2011)
Sometimes, litigation in the Surrogate’s Court involves actions taken in another estate or trust that harm our clients. Stephen Davis, representing the executors of a surviving spouse’s estate, settled a dispute with the trustees of the estate of the first spouse to die, resulting from the requirement under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) for inclusion in the taxable estate of a surviving spouse the testamentary trust created by her pre-deceased husband for her lifetime benefit (QTIP Trust). Although the IRC specifically apportions the increase in taxes solely to the QTIP Trust, the IRC nonetheless creates conflict between next generation beneficiaries when executors are called upon to make a tax election unfavorable to them personally, but resulting in a greater tax benefit to the QTIP Trust. Reaching back to past estate litigation experience, Steve, now chair of the firm’s Tax Certiorari & Condemnation group, in collaboration with Frank W. Streng, chair of the firm’s Surrogate’s Court Litigation group, asserted at Surrogate’s Court and to the Trustee of the QTIP Trust, ancient and esoteric rules of fairness to achieve recoupment of the Estate’s $44,000 tax advantage (compared to a date of death valuation). In this instance, equitable adjustment, a form of implied contract, manifested itself as the duty of the QTIP Trust to make whole the beneficiaries of the surviving spouse’s estate from a loss imposed to achieve the Trust’s greater $345,000 tax benefit. Although equitable adjustment had been applied to other types of tax elections made by fiduciaries, e.g., a Warms Adjustment (1041 deduction vs. 706 deduction), there exists no reported case in New York applying the concept to a surviving spouse’s estate’s conflict with a QTIP Trust.
Westchester Playhouses v. Assessor of Town of Rye (Supreme Court, Westchester Co. 2011)
Tax Certiorari & Condemnation – Valuation of Ancient Theater
In order to succeed for their clients, tax certiorari lawyers must focus on whether a property has current rental value. In multiple annual assessment proceedings in which Stephen Davis sought tax refunds based on a high tax assessment of $950,000, Steve successfully negotiated a reduction in the assessment of an ancient theatre to $480,000. The lowered assessment reflects treatment of an older theatre (circa 1922) in Port Chester as though it were vacant land. Steve successfully presented to the Assessor and the Town’s tax certiorari counsel evidence that this almost 90 year old building possessed virtually zero value. The theater, occupying approximately 75% of the building, supported no uses, as it had gone dark in the late 1970s, had reached a state of utter deterioration, and would have required a further investment of many hundreds of thousands of dollars to rehabilitate just to render it rentable. The assessor recognized the argument that a property owner need not essentially rebuild the property in order to make it income producing for creation of assessable value.
Delvito Realty v. Assessors of the Town & Village of Mamaroneck, Supreme Court, Westchester Co. (2010 & 2011); 603 Fenimore ) Rd Corp. v. Assessors of the Town and Village of Mamaroneck, Supreme Court, Westchester Co. (2010 & 2011).
Tax Certiorari & Condemnation – Floods Sink Mamaroneck Values
Our lawyers’ familiarity with Mamaroneck’s flooding conditions benefitted clients seeking reduction of their assessments when those conditions adversely impact their property. Representing the owner of a high end, two tenant, 20,000 sq. ft. industrial building in Mamaroneck’s “Flats,” the Village’s industrial area, Stephen Davis, who chairs our Tax Certiorari & Condemnation group, successfully negotiated settlements of multiple annual tax certiorari proceedings, reducing the Town assessments by 45% and the Village assessments by 55%. In the second case, Steve achieved comparable reductions for another warehouse in “The Flats.” Steve successfully presented to the two Assessors and to the Town’s and Village’s tax certiorari counsel, evidence that the 2007 March and April floods significantly depressed market value in the area, and continues to do so. Adding to the prior flooding the deluge created by recent Hurricane Irene, these days “The Flats” of Mamaroneck seem to be referred to as the Sheldrake River flood plain. This reputation for repeated severe flooding engenders greatly reduced values for the many warehouse buildings of this once prime lower Westchester industrial area.
As part of their work, Tax Certiorari and Condemnation lawyers must understand environmental issues and their impact on a property’s valuation. Representing Westchester Joint Water Works (WJWW), Stephen Davis successfully upheld WJWW’s condemnation against attack from an alleged failure of WJWW to undertake adequate environmental considerations. Exercising its original jurisdiction, the Appellate Division sustained the argument that WJWW properly relied upon three prior negative declarations for the affected subdivision in discharging WJWW’s obligation to take and consider the required long, hard look at the project’s effect upon the environment.[Read in full]
Our lawyers represent clients on dispute on prenuptial and post nuptial agreements. Here, in a declaratory judgment action involving an esoteric point of law, Stephen Davis and Joel M. Aurnou achieved an abatement of a surviving spouse’s contract with her husband to bequeath the proceeds of sale of the couple’s Miami Beach oceanfront condominium residence to her late husband’s daughter. Applying the ademption concept, the trial court – unanimously affirmed by the appellate court – ruled that the promise to bequeath pertained only to the condominium owned by the couple at the time of the promise, notwithstanding that they replaced their original condominium with another in the very same Collins Avenue condominium building.[Read in full]
Peo. (Vil. Of Mamaroneck) v. Argueso, Justice Court of the Town of Harrison, Johnston, J. aff’d Appellate Term. 9th & 10th Judicial Districts (1993) and Zaccagninio v. Village of Rye Brook, Supreme Court, Westchester County, Lefkowitz, J. (2004)
Commercial Litigation – Municipal Regulation – Sprinkler System Retrofit Ordinance Invalid
Stephen Davis successfully invalidated in both cases a retrofit sprinkler system ordinance on the basis that the legislation creating the State Uniform Building Code, which except under certain very limited circumstances, precludes both the Code and local governments from requiring retrofitting to pre-1984 structures. And, in regard to local governments, precludes enactment of any local law at variance with the State Code.
Tax Certiorari and Condemnation cases almost always involve the use of experts to establish value. Here, Stephen Davis successfully used an expert to establish rental value for apartments in a cooperative apartment buildling conversion as part of the capitalization of income process. At the taxpayer’s behest, the court applied a remedial statute designed to avoid use of sales prices for each unit, the effect of which would make the sum of the parts worth more than the whole, i.e., worth more than a neighboring similar apartment building. Instead, the rental value, rather than the so-called conversion value, was considered to be the best measure of value. Then, Steve convinced the Appellate Division to affirm the lower court ruling.[Read in full]
The valuation technique used by Tax Certiorari & Condemnation lawyers is the key to success or failure of their cases. Here, Stephen Davis successfully obtained a tax assessment reduction for property owned by the user department store permitted by capitalizing rental value. He did so through the use of expert testimony on rental values, rather than employing a cumbersome reconstruction cost methodology that would have likely resulted in a higher valuation for the client’s property. Steve then won on the appeal.[Read in full]
Stephen Davis and Joel M. Aurnou prevailed in a reformation action by distinguishing mutual ignorance from mutual mistake of fact. The result was their client’s warehouse tenant paying a real estate tax escalation rental over a base of a vacant land assessment and not against a base assessment of the completed warehouse building.[Read in full]
Representing a creditor, Stephen Davis successfully persuaded the Court of Appeals to reverse a decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department. Upon reversal, the lower court was compelled to recognize the right of general creditors to intervene in opposition to a referee’s report of sale, in order to restore what should have been surplus moneys from which the creditors’ claims could then be paid.[Read in full]
Tax Certiorari & Condemnation – Adjustment By Equalization Rate Comes To Westchester
McCarthy Fingar’s Tax Certiorari & Condemnation lawyers have also represented local towns and municipalities to defend their assessments. Here, on behalf of the Town of Rye, Stephen Davis established for Westchester County tax certiorari practice avoidance of artificially depressed value through overstatement of tax expense when capitalizing net income. Steve persuaded the court to adopt the Nassau County methodology of adjusting the actual tax rate by the ratio of assessed value to full value.
[Read in full]
- Scarsdale Town Justice (1993-1998)
- Member, White Plains Bar Association