On December 28, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 (Ch. 381 of 2020, A.11181/S.9114). As its title suggests, the legislation protects residential tenants and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic. But it also impacts two widely-popular real property tax exemptions—those for senior citizens and persons with disabilities or low incomes—making renewal of those exemptions automatic in most cases for the 2021 year.
Sections 459-c and 467 of the Real Property Tax Law authorize partial real property tax exemptions for senior citizens and persons with disabilities or limited incomes. Generally speaking (with exceptions not discussed here), homeowners must apply for the exemptions annually, using renewal forms mailed by the assessor. In a normal year, this process frequently involves homeowner visits to town hall, either to return the forms or to otherwise renew eligibility.
Due to social distancing requirements, several municipalities urged Governor Cuomo to streamline this process during the pandemic. On December 18, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order (Executive Order 202.83) authorizing local governments to automatically renew on the 2021 assessment roll exemptions given in 2020. However, the Governor’s order required localities to grant the renewal by resolution or local law. This created an end-of-year time-crunch, because most assessors were statutorily required to mail out the renewal applications by December 31, 2020.
The Governor and Legislature solved this problem. The new legislation eliminates the time-crunch by making the renewals mandatory, relieving localities of the burden of passing a local law or resolution. It requires localities to automatically extend the exemptions for 2021 without requiring renewal applications from homeowners. However, the assessor must still make renewal applications available (by electronic or postal means) to persons who suspect they may be entitled to a larger exemption in 2021 than in 2020.
The new legislation does leave some room for local action. It authorizes local governments to adopt a local law or resolution which includes procedures by which the assessor may require a renewal application to be filed when he or she has reason to believe that an owner who qualified for the exemption on the 2020 assessment roll may have since changed his or her primary residence, added another owner to the deed, transferred the property to a new owner, or died. However, local governments remain forbidden from requiring the in-person filing of renewal applications.