New York Tax Auditors Take Their Search Far And Wide
Apr. 23, 1991
MIAMI (AP) _ Florida is a lucrative place to look for New York taxpayers. New Jersey, Connecticut and California aren't bad either.
That's from tax auditors on the lookout for New Yorkers who consider themselves ex-New Yorkers. They're the New Yorkers who didn't perform all the legal maneuvers they had to do to get out of paying New York income taxes.
''They greet us with open arms,'' said a tongue-in-cheek Karl Felsen, spokesman for the New York Department of Taxation and Finance.
The department's Revenue Opportunity Division was created in 1986 to track down missing taxpayers, and 64 auditors are at work this year on about 4,000 audits where the legal domicile is in question.
The search could be worth about $90 million a year to New York coffers, Felsen said.
''There are people that engage in out-and-out fraud. There is also a certain body of people that are just totally unaware of residency issues,'' he said. ''There's another group, which is people that just get extremely bad advice.''
Buffalo, N.Y., attorney Allan Lipman has counseled several dozen clients caught in the domicile squeeze and has written a guide to help New York ''snowbirds'' understand the legal consequences of their extended Florida stays.
With New York taxes so high and Florida charging no income tax, a switch at retirement down south seems attractive. But it's not always easy as far as taxes go.
''One of the most unfortunate things in the scenario is that you have people who 10, 12 years ago made a change to Florida,'' he said. ''They're been voting in Florida. They have Florida license plates on their car. They have Florida registration. They really took most of the steps that at least 10 or 12 years ago attorneys and accountants were telling them to take.''
But sophisticated computer programs now make it possible to examine closely the 470,000 non-resident tax returns filed in New York, and many of those taxpayers are liable for more than they thought if they didn't sever their New York ties.
For starters, anyone who stays in New York at least 184 days a year is subject to New York taxes. But it doesn't end there. Auditors will check airline tickets, credit card bills and telephone records to determine a taxpayer's location.
And the 184-day rule can be meaningless when people maintain a house, business connections or club memberships in New York.
Lipman offers a 21-point checklist for New Yorkers who want to consider themselves Florida residents. They include executing a Florida will, changing a passport address and filing federal returns with the Internal Revenue Service center in Atlanta because it handles Florida forms.
''New York at this point is probably more aggressive than other states'' in tracking down non-resident New Yorkers, he said. ''A lot of people have been extremely upset and have been somewhat intimidated by the whole process.''
Lipman cites the case of a Brooklyn, N.Y., doctor who moved to Florida, gave the family house to his daughter and treated patients back at his old office while up north.
The New York Tax Appeals Tribunal concluded the doctor was still subject to state income taxes because his medical practice represented a continual tie to the community.
Now widowed, Lillian Feldman of Boca Raton charges New York auditors made her husband's last years miserable. She said she paid $14,500 in taxes after he died because she was tired of fighting.
Non-residents listing Florida addresses made up 30 percent of the audits performed in 1989 and 20 percent in 1990 as the state pursued the best cases first.
Neighboring New Jersey accounted for 40 percent and Connecticut 30 percent last year. California will become an increasing target as cases are exhausted in the initial target states, Felsen said.
Of the $90 million in assessments claimed by New York, more than one-third is collected up front and payment plans are set up for others.
The majority end up in appeals and court, but New York tax commissioner James Wetzler says his department is winning most of the residency questions.
''On balance, it's going to be a very lucrative program for the state,'' he said. ''The amount it costs us is tiny compared to the amount we take in.''
End Adv AMs Tuesday, April 23