Working to Increase Property Tax Break for the Physically Challenged & the Blind: Clavin, Miller & OLIVER Propose Enhanced Property Tax Break for "Handicapable" Home Improvements

Issued by: Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin

Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin and State Assemblywoman Missy Miller have announced a state legislative proposal that would enhance a property tax break for property owners who make home improvements to their houses to accommodate family members and other household occupants with physical challenges or handicapping conditions, as well as those who are legally blind.  The officials discussed the exemption at Miller’s home, along with her son Oliver, who confronts physical challenges and is blind.

“The costs of making home improvements and renovations can be significant,” observed Clavin.  “Those costs can be dramatically higher when highly specialized improvements and renovations are required in order to accommodate people with physical challenges.  It is incumbent on government to do its part to assist taxpayers who confront these substantial costs, and an enhanced property tax exemption for those improvements is one way in which we can help.  I want to thank Assemblywoman Missy Miller for sponsoring legislation on this issue in Albany.”

The legislation that Clavin and Miller are looking to amend is known as the “Home Improvement Tax Reduction for the Physically Disabled” exemption.  The law currently permits cities, villages, towns, counties and school districts to offer a partial property tax exemption to eligible property owners of one-, two- or three-family homes who make qualifying home improvements.  The amendment would expand the exemption, which applies to renovations that facilitate and accommodate the use or accessibility of the house, to include special district taxes.  Some special districts that would be able to “opt in” on the expanded exemption include water districts, sanitation districts, library districts and fire districts, among others.

“The cost of home renovations required to accommodate people with physical challenges can be staggering,” said Miller.  “It’s time to expand this exemption to include special district taxes so that families confronting renovation costs to make their homes more accessible can receive the maximum property tax relief possible.”

Under the law, the full value of the qualifying home improvements is exempt from property taxes for participating governmental jurisdictions (cities, towns, counties, schools, villages).  Adding special districts to the taxing jurisdictions that could “opt in” on the exemption could result in no assessment increases for property tax purposes on home improvements designed to accommodate house occupants who have physical challenges.

Clavin called prospective additional tax savings significant for affected homeowners under the legislation.  Currently, 144 Hempstead Town homeowners receive the Home Improvement Tax Reduction for the Physically Disabled exemption.  A typical home in the town could witness additional savings of over $650 or 25 percent on its General Tax bill by adding special districts to the local government entities that participate in the exemption program.  The current total tax savings to homeowners under the program is $252,342.  The additional maximum tax cost exposure to special districts if the program is expanded amounts to $51,282.

“The potential savings we are talking about are genuine and significant,” observed Clavin.  Added Miller, “This could mean the difference between being able to make an important home improvement or not for the benefit of a physically challenged family member.”

Clavin observed that his inspiration for coming up with the tax break proposal was the Assemblywoman’s son, Oliver.  Oliver has defied the odds in his battle against the ravages of a traumatic brain injury, physical challenges, blindness, cognitive disabilities and a host of medical issues.  Oliver also motivated Miller to successfully lobby the state Senate and Assembly for legislation that provided her son and thousands of others access to medical marijuana. 

“Oliver, along with his mother Missy, was my inspiration in developing this proposal,” stated Clavin.  “They are both compelling figures, and they have inspired me to come up with a proposal that will ease the financial burdens of families coping with the enormous expenses associated with specialized home improvements for people with physical challenges.”

The officials noted that the expansion of this exemption would only minimally impact the local tax base as it would not significantly reduce existing assessments/property taxes for affected homes.  Rather, the legislation would primarily shield new improvements from increased assessments/taxes for eligible properties.

“This exemption will help people with physical challenges while having minimal impact on the existing tax base,” stated Clavin.  “It is a ‘win-win’ measure for persons with disabilities and our communities as a whole.”

The types of home improvements or renovations that typically qualify for this exemption include the removal of architectural barriers, complete house accessibility renovations, new rooms, additions, elevators, kitchen and bathroom renovations that facilitate or accommodate accessibility, access ramps, entry and egress upgrades, automated doors, among other home improvements.

The costs associated with removing physical barriers at the home are substantial.  For example, the average hydraulic or pneumatic home elevator can cost over $30,000 (including installation and related structural alterations).  Additionally, kitchen and bathroom renovations necessary for handicapped accessibility can total $40,000 according to fixr.com.  Further, the cost of home additions can far exceed $120,000, according to the town’s Building Department.

“It’s clear that we need to take legislative action and enhance this valuable property tax exemption for people with physical challenges,” stated Miller.  “We need to take a strong stand to help people who are burdened with costs associated with making their homes accessible for family members with special requirements.”

The Home Improvement Tax Reduction for the Physically Disabled applies to persons who have a permanent physical impairment which substantially limits one or more of such individual’s major life activities.  It also applies to individuals who have obtained a certificate from the New York State Commission for the Blind stating that such individual is legally blind.

“I want to thank Assemblywoman Missy Miller for leading this fight to enhance an important property tax break for people with physical challenges,” concluded Clavin.  “The costs of upgrading a home to accommodate persons with disabilities have soared, and we need to amend our state legislation to provide needed tax relief.”