Paper Tigers

According to the document given to Mackey, the Village of Hempstead paid back $107,123 on the apartment complex at 299 Jackson Ave., which is listed in county records as belonging to James Metz. In recent years, Metz has turned his empire over to his son, Jimmy, and daughter Alicia, who have continued to file annual protests of their property taxes.

The Metz children are represented by the powerful GOP law firm of Certilman, Balin, Adler & Hyman, and the firm is worth every penny. Each year since 1993, county records show, the Metz family has brought home $49,225 in judgements on the property taxes at 299 Jackson— in addition to the money they get back from the village.

The Metzes' judgements on 299 Jackson sound a tad less generous when you consider Hempstead wanted taxes of $27,020 for the property, and the county wanted $142,541. Inordinately high taxes plague property owners throughout Nassau. The county's residential property hasn't been reassessed since 1938, with the result that some people are paying far too little and others far too much. The system is so unfair that 10 percent of all residential property owners appeal their taxes, and the county now struggles under a debt of $818 million it borrowed just to pay the refunds.

Alicia Metz says she sees no reason to lower rents when she gets a judgement on exorbitant taxes. "The tenants don't pay when the taxes go up," she says.

'They Have a Moral Responsibility.'

Thanks to a new law, the village's tenants may soon be paying less, regardless of what the landlords think.

In September, the Hempstead Village Board voted unanimously to join the state's program for granting rent reductions to older people, known as the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption, or SCRIE. Under the new rules, elderly tenants can pay lower monthly amounts than are called for under the rent control guidelines— but only if they file an application.

What's more, says ACORN community organizer Ann Sullivan, the SCRIE program entitles all villagers who live in rent-controlled apartments to pay smaller annual increases than called for by the Rent Guidelines Board. "It's a big victory, and we're really excited about it," she says.

The problem, Sullivan says, is that most tenants don't yet know about the program. Some are already signing two-year leases for more money than they're legally required to pay under SCRIE.

Sullivan says she asked Mayor James Garner to hold a press conference to announce the rent breaks, and he "more or less said no." Unless the village lets people know their rights, Sullivan says, hard-won tenant victories could go to waste. "We definitely think the information should be coming from the mayor's office," she says. "They have a moral responsibility to do it."

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