Four Nassau homeowners filed a lawsuit Tuesday against County Executive Laura Curran, contending the county’s reassessment is arbitrary, secretive and violates state and federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.
The suit filed in state Supreme Court asks that the county be barred permanently from levying or collecting taxes based on the new home values, which are scheduled to become final next April 1. It also asks the court to order and supervise new annual “scientific” property tax assessments for Nassau’s more than 386,000 residential properties.
“The public record demonstrates that the countywide reassessment was performed in an extremely rushed manner, during an unreasonably short period of time, under a veil of secrecy and with utilization of undisclosed software, modeling, algorithms, undisclosed protocols and the so-called 'neighborhood factors' which, without rhyme or reason, either added excessive value or greatly reduced the assessed value of similar homes,” the lawsuit says.
The resulting home values “were arbitrary and capricious, not uniform, not scientific and demonstrably unfair,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit was filed by Manhattan attorney Scott Mollen on behalf of Sands Point resident Eric Berliner and three other homeowners, who are seeking class action status.
Since new assessments were issued Jan. 1, Berliner has appeared at county legislative hearings and meetings to complain about inaccuracies in the new residential values. He said his home was overassessed by $4.55 million and that many of the new assessments made no sense.
The lawsuit points to “striking differences” between similar areas caused by an unexplained neighborhood factor.
For example, the factor increased values throughout Port Washington while “inexplicably” decreasing values in Oyster Bay. It alleges, without offering specifics, that “certain significant contributors to the Democratic party in Nassau County, who reside in Oyster Bay, benefited from their use of the neighborhood adjustment factors.”
The suit also cites two homes across the street from each other in Sea Cliff that are “arbitrarily separated” by different neighborhood adjustment factors.
The smaller home, with a smaller lot and no water view, was assessed at $883,179, while a larger house across the street on a larger property with a water view was given a market value of $779,696 using different factors.
The lawsuit says Nassau's “mysterious modeling system” uses comparable home sales to help generate values. But it says an analysis of 730 home sales throughout the county showed 44 percent of new assessments missed the time-adjusted sales price by at least 10 percent while some houses were overassessed by more than 77 percent.
Newsday reported Sunday that an analysis of more than 10,000 sales found the county’s new assessments are well within professional standards of accuracy and fairness, with about 33 percent of residential properties over-assessed or under-assessed by more than 10 percent. That amounts to about 127,000 houses in Nassau with assessments that are off by more than 10 percent.
Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said in statement, “although Nassau County does not comment on pending litigation, we stand by the analysis conducted by Newsday stating, ‘the results suggest the assessments are about as fair and accurate as an assessor can achieve.’ ”
Last week, Lynbrook homeowner Dennis Duffy filed suit to force Curran to reveal the computer formula used for calculating the new home values. Duffy argued that he could not rationally protest his assessment without knowing how the county derived his market value.
The county had repeatedly denied his request for the formula, saying the algorithm was a “trade secret” embedded in the software of a consultant hired for the reassessment.