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Brooklyn townhouse owners fight back against $1,000 front stoop tax

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Extra large stoops in Boerum Hill come at an extra large cost

State Street’s 14 Townhouses
Image via Rogers Marvel Architects

You could be forgiven for thinking that the price of your Brooklyn townhouse would include unmitigated access to your own front stoop, but according to the New York Post, that’s not always the case.

The paper explains the legal drama unfolding in Boerum Hill, where 34 property owners—many of whom live in the neighborhood’s 14 Townhouses—say they’re being charged “more than $1,000 a year just to use the steps leading up to their homes.”

And they’re not wrong: When the residents bought those modern townhouses on the north side of State Street between Hoyt and Smith streets, their contracts included an what they’re now calling an “‘illegal’ side deal between the developer and the city.”

The Post explains:

The agreement allowed the builder to extend the homes’ stairways 6 feet 3 inches beyond the property line and onto the city-owned sidewalk, jacking up the sale price.

In exchange, the city would receive a special annual tax — paid by the residents.

The tax, which rises bit by bit every year, means the homeowners are essentially “renting” the space where their stoops are.

And because it’s part of a “revocable consent agreement,” the city could theoretically demolish the steps at any time, leaving home owners marooned in their own homes.

In 2015, the homeowners sued the city, arguing that the agreement is illegal, and the city “should be allowed to enter into such arrangements only for temporary structures” (i.e., scaffolding, not steps).

But the city begged to differ. In response, the city’s lawyer argued that the residents should have known about the agreement before moving in since it was in their contracts (and, to be fair, many acknowledge that they did), and that HS Development Partners, the developer of the homes, only made the deal to “maximize petitioners’ living space.”

“It’s one of those weird, bureaucratic things that doesn’t make sense,’’ said resident Luke Gunnell, who pays the city Department of Transportation $1,154 every year in exchange for the use of his stoop. (The bills go to the DOT, since the issue involves sidewalks.)

Unfortunately for the homeowners, it made plenty of sense to the Manhattan supreme court judge presiding over the case — or at least, enough sense to rule in the city’s favor, arguing that it “acted within its discretion.”

“The city enters into hundreds of these ‘revocable consent’ agreements to facilitate the construction of housing,” a city Law Department rep told the Post. “Over the last several decades, the city has revoked less than a handful.” So that’s...reassuring?