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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

New York City Department of Finance
Reporting of Billboard Income


Issued: August 15, 2013
Link to full audit report 2011-N-2

Purpose
To determine whether income from properties with billboards was being accurately reported on the Real Property Income Expense Statements (RPIE) filed with the New York City Department of Finance (Finance). We also determined whether penalties were being assessed in accordance with the City Administrative Code for the failure to file an RPIE, filing late, or filing an inaccurate RPIE. Our audit period included RPIEs due September 1st of 2009 and 2010 and used to compute tax assessments for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 City tax years.

Background
Finance's Property Division (Division) is responsible to ensure that all real property in New York City (City) is valued fairly, accurately and consistently. To accomplish this mission, the Division, in part, relies on the accurate submission of an RPIE from the owners of income producing property. Finance assessors are responsible for verifying income reported on RPIEs. Assessors also make observations during field visits, and correct reported income when they believe it is incorrect or omitted. Finance may also assess penalties for the failure to file a RPIE or for filing an inaccurate RPIE.

Key Findings

  • Finance had limited documentation to support that assessors were verifying RPIE billboard income. In addition, Finance was not doing enough to identify and follow up on properties with billboards. Consequently, there is increased risk that property owners are not reporting billboard income on the RPIE. Finance records show that 749 property owners reported an average billboard income of $83,565 for 2009 and 2010. We identified 235 properties with billboards that did not report any billboard income in these two years. If the average is applied to the 235 properties then we estimated that property owners did not report $19.9 million of billboard income on the RPIEs due on September 1, 2009 and September 1, 2010.
  • Finance had not routinely obtained and reviewed a Department of Buildings listing of properties with billboards. We obtained such a listing showing 871 properties with billboards and noted that for 717 (82.3 percent) no income had been reported to Finance. Subsequently, Finance began using the listing and, as a result, identified $9 million of additional billboard income estimated to generate $500,000 of tax revenue in the first year and up to $2.9 million of tax revenue in the fifth year.
  • The City Administrative Code has authorized Finance to issue penalties in each year since 1986 for non-filers or for the late or inaccurate filing of an RPIE. Finance only began using penalties in September 2010, which resulted in an additional $3.4 million charged on tax bills for the failure to file a RPIE. However, penalties are not being assessed for inaccurate or late RPIEs.

Key Recommendation

  • Routinely obtain and examine the Buildings Department listing of properties to ensure Finance is aware of and follows up on any billboards that are not present on Finance's records.
  • Require the assessor to document verification of billboard income reported by the property owner on the RPIE.
  • Impose penalties authorized by the City Administrative Code for the late or inaccurate filings of RPIEs.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest

None


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: StateGovernmentAccountability@osc.state.ny.us
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236