The debtor has a passion for historic architecture, and you remember him once mentioning a beautiful old house that he was thinking about buying years ago. You suspect that he may have secretly purchased the house and has failed to disclose it.
Real estate protected by historic designations can be found several ways, thanks to publicly available resources. As we have explained in previous posts, county records are an excellent place to start when looking for real property. In New York City, property records are digitized on ACRIS, and can be searched by owner name, address or parcel. Other jurisdictions may have similar records on line, and some may not. Find out here.
But an ACRIS search of the debtor’s name (and this applies to most any other database) will reveal nothing if the debtor does not own the property under his own name. However, in New York, if you have even a vague idea of where the property might be located, then you may be able to find it using New York State’s GIS map of historic places or this online map of New York City’s historic landmarks. These maps provide each historic property’s address, block and lot number, and national registry number.
The registry numbers of properties you think may belong to the debtor can be used to search New York State’s Document Imaging database, which contains digitized records of historic designation applications. These applications provide a wealth of information about individual properties. While the applications generally not include the owner’s name, they do list the name of the individual who prepared the designation application. If the debtor did not fill out the application himself, a conversation with the person who did may lead you to the property’s owner.
Once you have an address, you can also check to see if the debtor received any grants or loans from the New York Landmarks Conservancy or the Historic House Trust, which post lists of grant recipients online.
Finally, tax returns can provide information regarding historic property ownership, as well. Owners of designated historic properties receive a federal income tax credit for certain restoration costs. This means that the debtors tax returns can tell you not only whether he owns a historic property, but also how much he has spent on improvements.
Hunting for a secret but valuable property is a lot like other kinds of searches we do: it requires the use of many databases, not just one. And as often as not, an interview or two will help to nail down the piece of real estate in question.