Suffolk County will auction off the home of a Holtsville couple facing a series of personal struggles unless the county legislature approves potentially precedent-setting legislation today to allow them more time to pay delinquent property taxes dating to 2009.
Giovanna and Domenico Morabito’s attorney, Lawrence Spada of Patchogue, told lawmakers last Thursday that the couple has struggled with a number of crises: Their 36-year-old daughter, Katheryn, has Down syndrome; Domenico, 67, suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s or dementia, and Giovanna, 62, had breast cancer this year.
“This house is everything to me. My daughter grew up here. She knows where to go, where everything is,” Giovanna Morabito said outside the Suffolk legislative building last week. “We built the house stone by stone.”
Spada said he was holding $141,000 from the couple’s retirement savings to pay back taxes, interest and penalties.
The legislation would require the county to give back the Morabito’s house if the family pays all taxes, interest and late charges within 60 days. The legislature’s Ways and Means Committee approved the measure unanimously last week.
But some lawmakers and the legislature’s attorney, George Nolan, said it would undermine a county program that seizes properties from owners who haven’t paid property taxes for at least six years. They said the legislation could set off a wave of cases from delinquent property owners looking to reclaim their homes.
“I’m really mindful this is a terrible situation for this family,” Nolan said at last Thursday’s committee meeting. But “in the law, you need finality. You need deadlines. You need real deadlines,” Nolan said.
Spada said the Morabitos stopped paying taxes on the house when they had paid off their mortgage. “Mr. Morabito didn’t realize or didn’t understand he had to pay the taxes,” Spada said.
Domenico Morabito, who takes care of the couple’s daughter, never told his wife or son, Carmelo, an attorney in Maryland, about the late notices from the county. Giovanna said she only discovered the problem when a county sheriff’s deputy posted an eviction notice on their door.
In December 2015, the legislature granted the Morabitos a hardship exemption allowing them another 60 days to pay the back taxes. That typically has been the last resort for those severely behind in property taxes. The Morabitos missed the deadline after failing to get a home-equity loan in time, said Carmelo Morabito, 29.
Giovanna Morabito, who works in a stockroom at an electronics store, said she now sleeps on a couch with her daughter, after moving out much of their furniture, fearing eviction.
In 2016 the family hired Spada, who contacted Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr.
Kennedy brought the matter to the legislator for the district, Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), who’s sponsoring the bill. Kennedy said he wasn’t concerned about setting a precedent.
“Given the same set of circumstances, where a family has dementia, cancer and a Down syndrome child at the same time, I’d work just as hard,” he said. “Government is not supposed to profit off tragedy.”