Court of Appeals Unanimously Rules in Favor of HSE Municipal Client on Reimbursement for Zombie Home Expenses

Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, a full-service law firm with offices throughout New York, recently represented the Town of Irondequoit in its successful challenge to a 2016 Monroe County real property tax policy by which the County refused to reimburse the Town for unpaid maintenance and demolition charges for dilapidated and/or vacant properties (“zombie properties”).  

“When the Irondequoit Town Board made the decision to pursue litigation against Monroe County’s policy, we knew that such a case could be brought to the State’s highest Court, and have implications for towns across New York,” said Irondequoit Supervisor Dave Seeley. “Harter Secrest & Emery recognized the importance of this matter to the Town of Irondequoit, and this was reflected in their outstanding preparation and clear presentation of the Town’s legal standing.”

In the unanimous ruling, the New York State Court of Appeals reinstated a 2018 Supreme Court decision finding for the Town and prohibiting counties from withholding reimbursement to towns for unpaid property maintenance and demolition charges levied against zombie properties. This ruling provides that all counties in New York State must guarantee and credit to towns all property maintenance and demolitions charges, just as if such charges were “taxes.”

In the Opinion, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote:

It appears that the Legislature, recognizing that towns have little power to recoup their costs for unpaid real property tax liens, has shifted the risk of loss to counties, which are in the best position to recover the funds through in rem foreclosure proceedings.  The same considerations apply to blighted properties, where the Legislature may have presumed that counties are in a better position to recover charges imposed on real property pursuant to the Town Law.  Thus, the County was required to credit the maintenance and demolition charges, and its determination to the contrary should have been annulled.

The Harter Secrest & Emery Litigation team, who collaborated with attorneys representing the Town of Brighton, and the Association of Towns of the State of New York, was led by Megan K. Dorritie, and included Andrew M. Dean and retired partner Edward F. Premo, II

Harter Secrest & Emery’s litigation attorneys represent clients on a wide range of matters including municipal matters, high-stakes commercial disputes, intellectual property litigation, insurance-coverage disputes, employment and ERISA litigation, privacy and data security matters, government investigations, professional liability claims, construction disputes, and securities litigation. Harter Secrest & Emery’s litigation practice received a top-tier ranking from Chambers USA, and seven of its litigators have been individually recognized by Chambers.

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