The Automated City Register Information System, more commonly referred to as “ACRIS”, is New York City Department of Finance’s online portal. The portal allows one to view property records (such as deed filings), calculate property taxes, apply for exemptions, and prepare transfer tax forms. This system is used for all property within four out of the five boroughs, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens. Staten Island uses the Richmond County portal.
Most relative to our line of work as estate planning attorneys is the transfer or sale of real property or cooperative units. Such transfers can occur during one’s lifetime or after death. Because many of our clients are residents of New York City or own secondary property in New York City, we work almost daily with ACRIS.
Before transferring property, it is important to determine who holds ownership of the property. While many clients assume that they are the owner, or think they know who is, there have been many instances where that was not the case. We may discover there is a joint owner who needs to sign off on a transfer, or a deceased owner whose estate needs to be probated for a transfer to occur. A search through the ACRIS website brings up any deeds on record, including the most current deed on file showing ownership. Further research can reveal any mortgages, liens, or judgments against the property, which may need to be dealt with before a sale or transfer.
Determining ownership for cooperative units is not as easy. While ACRIS should have the most current tax forms on file, ownership is determined by the unit’s stock certificate and proprietary lease, which are not filed with the City. One would have to go through the cooperative’s managing agent or attorney to determine ownership, if necessary. Whether selling or transferring a property to a trust or third party, New York City requires the filing of transfer tax forms, regardless of whether a tax is due. Through ACRIS, the forms can be generated, updated, and e-filed, thus allowing a quick turnover for the recording of documents.
For clients placing property in a trust, proper transfer is critical to ensure that the property’s ownership is in the trust’s name. Changing the title of the property to the trust’s name is achieved by preparing, executing and recording a new deed. It is imperative to note that if the property’s deed is not properly prepared and recorded, the property is not considered in the trust.
Even when discussing estate planning with clients, our attorneys confirm property ownership. It is important to determine if a property is held with rights of survivorship or as tenants in common. Importantly, the last deed of record for a property is public record. Systems like ACRIS allow us to quickly view deed filings to check proper ownership. Schedule a consultation if you have any question how property ownership can affect your estate plan.