Norwalker suing tax assessor over uncorrected ‘error’

Norwalker James Stamatis grew up in this home at 15 Lakeview Drive, Attorney Steve Colarossi said.
Norwalker James Stamatis grew up in this home at 15 Lakeview Drive, but inheriting it from his parents has created multiple problems, Attorney Steve Colarossi said.

NORWALK, Conn. – A lifelong Norwalker is reluctantly suing the city over an unfair tax assessment, which has caused his daughter to withdraw from college and has made it impossible to sell the house, Attorney Steven Colarossi said.

“Anyone driving by 15 Lakeview Drive sees a small Cape with a detached garage. It’s the kind of well-maintained home in a quiet and friendly neighborhood that would be an affordable home for a young family,” Colarossi said in a Sunday email. “But, according to Norwalk’s Tax Assessor, the property is worth $476,790 and the annual tax bill exceeds $8,500 — hardly affordable by any stretch of the imagination.”

The problem is that the home inherited by James Stamatis is on two lots, Colarossi explained. One lot has the house and the other has a garage built by Stamatis’ father after he bought the house in 1958.  Both are .11 acres, 4,791 square feet, Colarossi said, but Tax Assessor Michael Stewart contends that each lot is buildable, although Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene said in a letter provided by Colarossi that each of the B residence zoned lots is undersized by about 1,500 square feet.

“As the executor of his parents’ estate, (Stamatis) has been trying to sell the property, but has been told by Realtors that the excessive tax bill is making a sale impossible,” Colarossi wrote. “After years of trying to encourage the Tax Assessor to correct this error, and even after paying the exorbitant tax bills in May of 2012 to prevent the home from going into tax foreclosure, Mr. Stamatis has been unable to convince the Tax Assessor that the two tax lots cannot be subdivided.”

Neither Stewart nor Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr replied to a Monday email asking for comment.

The complaint and summons were served on city officials last week, Colarossi said.

“There is no way for the Tax Assessor to claim that the two tax parcels are buildable lots. In addition, there is no market data for him to conclude that he has fairly assessed each parcel, because there is no market for undersized lots on which no building can occur,” Colarossi said in his press release.

“Because each tax lot is less than 5,000 square feet, neither lot can be separated from the other and sold as a buildable lot,” Colarossi wrote. “And, with the parking for the home on one of the tax parcels, subdivision is prohibited because a landowner cannot create a lot that won’t comply with zoning (which would happen if Mr. Stamatis took the off-street parking away from the home).  Despite years of efforts at what should have been a common sense acknowledgement of a mistake that was being made for years by the Tax Assessor, Mr. Stamatis was left with no option but to begin his lawsuit against the City.”

“Suing my hometown was the last thing I wanted to do,” Stamatis said in the press release. “But, I made many efforts to explain the error to the Tax Assessor, submitted a letter from Planning & Zoning explaining that the lots could not be subdivided, and hired an attorney who detailed the impossibility of developing each tax lot separately.  I’ve left many phone messages and wrote many emails to various City officials in the hope that a simple error would be corrected. At no point has any consideration been given to the tremendous financial drain this outrageous assessment had on my parents and has had on my family.  And, I doubt that I’m the only taxpayer who has been ignored when complaining about tax assessments that defy common sense.”

In exhibit B of the complaint, Colarossi asserts that Stamatis had to deplete his savings to pay the taxes, as he was under threat of a tax title foreclosure. Those savings were going to paying college tuition for Stamatis’ daughter, Colarossi wrote.

“My client has given our City the benefit of the doubt and has been exceptionally patient waiting for the Tax Assessor to acknowledge the grave injustice this irrational tax assessment has created,” Colarossi said in his press release. “Sadly, as Mr. Stewart has refused to do that which the law obligates him to do, Mr. Stamatis will seek an order from the Superior Court to compel him to correct his years of mistaken over-assessments.”

Greene, in the letter submitted as exhibit A, suggested that Stamatis go to the Town Clerk’s office and officially merge the properties. Colarossi did not return a Monday email asking if Stamatis had done that.

Greene, in the April 4 letter to Stamatis, cites Section 118-800 E(2) of the Zoning regulations.

“This regulation, in effect, merges the two lots unless you can prove to the Zoning Board of Appeals that there was no intent to do so,” Greene wrote. “The fact that an accessory structure and parking was constructed on one lot and the primary use was on the other certainly indicates that the parcels were treated as a single entity (the regulations do not allow accessory structures on a lot without a primary structure).”

Exhibit A. Letter.Zoning.15Lakeview

Exhibit B.Letter.NorwalkAssessor.Stamatis.June 3 2014

complaint.city of norwalk.091214-1

EXHIBIT C.Spreadsheet.1 to 29 Lakeview.Appraisals.final-1


20 responses to “Norwalker suing tax assessor over uncorrected ‘error’”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    Surely the city could have taken the time to investigate this situation, which caused un-due stress to this homeowner.

    I can understand how a mistake like this can happen, and I do believe this homeowner is reluctantly filing a lawsuit against the city; this points to a very flawed dynamic that leads us to seek legal restitution; when you have no avenue for resolution, sometimes only the court room remains.
    From what is written here, it does appear that the city had MORE than enough opportunity to rectify this situation for the homeowner, instead you see references to articles (probably recently dusted off by Mr. Spahr and his team)to defend the situation.
    If that is the case, then stop calling Norwalk “a lovely city” and call it a corporation, Because that’s exactly what it is.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Yankee Clipper

    Typical. Michael Stewart is incompetent. Ask the assessors any of our neighboring towns … they will tell you. Ask the Property Tax Assessment Judge in New Britain. Ask any realtor. Ask any appraiser. He’s the laughing stock of Fairfield County.

  3. Peter Parker

    City hall needs a clean sweep! They all should go! This city’s management is a disgrace and the Mayor has done nothing to correct it, as he promised when he was running for office. Mr. Rilling’s track record is a disgrace and he should resign. Rilling is ultimately responsible for the mess in the city.

  4. Bill

    Incompetent city employee, but will he get a raise? you betcha 3+% guaranteed every year for the next decade unless our city management (mayor), stand up, grow a pair, and start demanding better work.

  5. Boz Scaggs

    Let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story….after doing a bit of research I got it on the Lowdown that this guy is delinquent 3 years and over $28,000…which ultimately means that all of us actual “Taxpayers” are paying a little bit more to make up for his delinquency….he should do a little Lido Shuffle into the office and pay his bill…..What Can I Say other than there will be a Breakdown Dead Ahead….

  6. Lisa Thomson

    @ Peter and Bill. City departments totally need to be cleaned up…but you lose credibility when you go after a mayor who has been in office less than a year. City employees that need either an attitude adjustment or to be shown the door are protected by contracts. They and their contracts have outlasted countless mayors and common councils way before Harry and may outlast us all, unless taxpayers and homeowners say, ‘enough already!”

    I applaud Harry for putting a stake in the ground and highlighting charter reform and P&Z as two areas, outlined in his state of the city speech, that need fixing. Now he has to deliver. But the residents of Norwalk have to do so as well. Residents must continue to keep the pressure on and call attention to the absurdities in our zoning regulations and residents will ultimately have to vote for a city charter revision.

    If a comprehensive overhaul is not adopted by the Planning and Zoning boards- Norwalk will continue to languish behind the state. If we don’t look to updating our city charter, we will will be left with a myriad of politicians, on BOTH sides of the aisle who cherry-pick projects for one year and spend the remainder of their second year ‘campaigning’. It’s a very inefficient way to run a city with $300 million budget.

    Norwalk has so much potential. Time for residents to start demanding more of its politicians, board members and employees.

  7. Scott

    And what if raises were merit based and the employee deserved 5% or 6%? Would people still have a problem? My guess is yes

  8. Debora

    If the garage was put up in 1965, as the article states, it doesn’t look like the assessors’ office can possibly maintain their position.

    E. Nonconforming lots.
    (2) If two (2) or more adjoining parcels of land are in single ownership and are recorded in the Norwalk Land Records as separate legal building lots before the effective date of these regulations, or amendments thereto, and if one (1) or
    more of the lots do not conform to these regulations, then such lot or lots shall be considered to be an undivided parcel for the purpose of this regulation, and no portion of said parcel shall be used or sold so as to diminish conformance with these regulations, except as may be granted by Special Exception by the Zoning
    Board of Appeals.

  9. Nora King

    What is very disturbing to me about Michael Stewart recently is that he bid on house to acquire during the last tax sale and his manager did nothing about it. I think that sounds like an ethical issue for a tax assessor to be able to acquire properties in a tax sale.

  10. One and Done.

    Nora. Tax collector and tax assessor are two different things. To the extent the assessor may have manipulated some valuations to cause the owner hardship, you may have a point. But, I wouldn’t give these paper pushers that much credit for what you are asserting. Hopefully common sense prevails here. This guy is getting screwed. His taxes should be more like 5 or 6k tops for that neighborhood and that size lot.

  11. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Wow! That’s a great scam! Raise tax appraisals high, wait for it to go into the tax sale and then buy it for cheap! Just another perk for working for the City of Norwalk – it’s probably written into the union contract as a benefit. Seriously, that was very poor judgement on the tax assessor’s part, just as creating this situation is also poor judgement.

    If he had a lawyer that had any sense, he would have just advised him to get the two lots merged as a single parcel, but that does cost money – surveys, lawyers, filing fees, etc. And, he needs to drop the price on the house – he’s asking too much for it. Prices are down in Norwalk because we have high taxes and mediocre school ratings. Even with lower taxes, it is probably only worth in the high $200s at most.

  12. Peter Parker

    Union employees can be fired, if you document, document, document you can get rid of them, but first you have to have the desire and backbone to go after the bad apples, which Rilling doesn’t seem capable of. Doesn’t matter how long he is in office, he needs to act, its his job.

  13. Eric Parrish

    “Peter Parker” AKA District A Councilman David Watts…

    Maybe you should spend your time looking for a job instead of opportunities to knock the Mayor.

    BTW…How is your tax bill?

  14. One and Done.

    SpiderWatts is very accurate in his assessment of the mayor’s ineffectiveness (ask anyone working at city hall). But his pejoratives add no value to the conversation. If he was half a council person paying attention he would be able to provide real, concrete examples of exactly how the mayor is derelict in his duty. Someone needs to speak out about the leadership void at 125 right now before morale worsens. Getting the Governor re-elected isn’t in the job description.

  15. Taxpayer Fatigue

    OMG! Leadership void! Low morale at city hall! Like the department heads aren’t in control of everything and do what they want regardless of who is mayor…They certainly did whatever they wanted under the Moccia regime, and laughed about it – just like they manipulate all of the council committee chairs…

  16. One and Done.

    You see to Taxpayer Fatigue, the mayor, the governor, the president….these folks bear no responsibility for anything. Everything is always the fault of mid level managers. I can’t wait to read some Leading from Behind self help books. Dale Carnegie rolls.

  17. srb1228

    Something doesn’t make sense here. The assessed value is supposed to be 70% of the Fair Market Value, if not there are methods to grieve the tax. If on one of the lots its impossible to build because it wasn’t grandfathered then the property should be worth very little. The garage and land would be the extent of the value. Likewise, why haven’t the properties been consolidated? Why sue if a simple consolidation would resolve the whole situation? Is the property owner reluctance to consolidate because they could be two buildable lots.

  18. Taxpayer Fatigue

    One and done. Maybe you should actually read the city code to understand how our government is actually set up versus how you want it to be to support your petty partisan politics.

  19. One and Done.

    @TaxpayerFatigueoffacts. Partisan politics? Please. You don’t even understand the division between the assessor and collector from your post above and you accuse me of not understanding how we are structured via charter. The mayor is the chairman of the city whether you like it or not. Harry can handle it if he wants to or he can choose to outsource his responsibility like he has so far. Don’t worry we’ll find someone who is not partisan to run the city next time around.

  20. Wow. It’s bad enough that an elderly man could have been charged for two building lots instead of one for years. Why should his heir have to hire a lawyer to get the assessor to fix this purely clerical error? What in the world is going on in the assessor’s office?

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