People in Waterbury are finding themselves with big headaches and hours wasted after getting taxed for a car that isn’t theirs.
David Haberfeld is a landlord who works out of, and lives in, Bristol. He owns several properties throughout the state, including a multi-family home on Fanning Street in Waterbury.
When he went to pull a building permit on it, he was stopped cold by the building departments saying he owed $1,450 in back car taxes.
“It didn't make sense because I don't live in Waterbury and I don't have any registered cars,” Haberfeld said.
That’s when he realized he was being held responsible for his tenants’ cars.
“They saw these cars in the driveway and they take it upon themselves to attach the cars that are in the driveway and tax the owner of the property without checking to see if it's a tenant occupied property, a multi-family, without doing any homework,” Haberfeld said.
He tried explaining the problem to Waterbury officials and that's when the runaround began.
Haberfeld said the city told him to challenge it with MTS, Municipal Tax Service, based in Shelton.
They’re the ones hired to go around Waterbury, checking for cars that aren't registered in the city.
“If someone pulls into my driveway, by their level of evidential proof, if someone pulls into my driveway, I own their car because I could be taxed for it,” Haberfeld said.
In order to clear his name, MTS wants two pieces of proof that a tenant lives in the house.
They ask for a lease and a utility bill.
But Haberfeld said that puts landlords in a hard spot because they want to protect the privacy of their tenants.
“Normally I wouldn't throw a tenant under the bus, but these tenants, I evicted them, and they owed me back money, so I did it,” Haberfeld said.
Just like MTS asked, he submitted a copy of the lease and the eviction paperwork.
“MTS responded and said that wasn't adequate proof and told me the taxes were still mine,” Haberfeld said.
The fight was about to be over and Haberfeld was coming out on the losing end.
“They're saying, we're going to bill you. When I say, it's not mine, there's no impartial appeal process,” Haberfeld said.
That's when he reached out to the Eyewitness News I-Team.
“I cannot prove my tenants own these cars. They can be visitors, neighbors parked there with my neighbors’ permission, they could even be my own contractor there doing work for something,” he said.
The manager of MTS, Carl DeProfio, said his service has worked for big cities like New Haven and Danbury in the past.
They take a car equipped with a camera, and the car roams while the camera rolls.
A synched computer then flags any cars that are in violation. DeProfio says the process is done repeatedly, and at night to decrease the chances that those who are parked may just be visiting.
But in Haberfeld’s case, it's not foolproof.
“It seems lazy to me,” Haberfeld said.
Especially since Haberfeld is now the one doing the legwork of proving a car isn't his.
When asked if a landlord should be doing the job for them, MTS said “landlords are responsible for vehicles on their property. Compliance is up to them, but the assessor will hold them responsible."
“If the police came out to determine who owned a car, this would never fly. 'It was in your driveway, it's your car, we found drugs in it, you're arrested.' can you imagine?” Haberfeld said.
Ultimately, Waterbury’s Assessor David Dietsch admitted this was a "bad judgment" on MTS' part and would clear Haberfeld of any responsibility.
But the Bristol landlord wants more.
“Tax skating off of cars and real estate is a real thing, but as soon as you have these complaints come in and realize something's wrong, you should end your relationship with them and they haven't done that,” Haberfeld said.
Even though MTS has worked with several big cities, they say they're only working with Waterbury now, but did file an application in Hartford.
Waterbury says the working relationship has gone on for four years and MTS has worked on 12,000 cases in that time.
The city did not have the amount collected available.
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