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Did Brian Joyce shortchange town on property taxes?

The home of state Senator Brian A. Joyce in Milton.
The home of state Senator Brian A. Joyce in Milton. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

It looks as though Brian Joyce is done with Milton. After saying he won’t run for Senate reelection amid a sprawling criminal investigation, he is now selling not only his house but even his family burial plot in the town where he grew up.

However, Milton officials may not be done with their nine-term senator: The brochure for the sale of his grand Colonial revival house suggests that he has done substantial renovations, adding more than 2,500 square feet of living space, apparently without the required town permits. Asking price? Although it’s not listed in the brochure, Joyce’s realtor told local brokers that it is $1.725 million.

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But Joyce pays property taxes based on a home value that is only half the current asking price, records show.

Town assessors believe Joyce may have been shortchanging Milton on taxes for years by tens of thousands of dollars.

“I would be very concerned if any resident did not apply for the proper permits when doing renovations that would have an effect on the value of their property,” said William Bennett, a member of the town’s Board of Assessors. “But it’s even more disheartening if one of our elected officials ignored the town’s laws.”

Neither Joyce, his spokeswoman, his lawyer, nor his broker, Sandra Keller, returned calls and e-mails seeking comment.

It’s been a rough year for Joyce, once an assistant majority leader in the Senate, who announced he would not seek reelection this fall less than a week after FBI agents raided his law office in February. He already has agreed to pay $4,617 to charity after state regulators found he spent campaign money on his son’s high school graduation party. Now, he is facing a federal grand jury investigation into whether he improperly used his public position to advance his personal interests.

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The improvements to Joyce’s house came to light when he quietly placed his home on the market — word of mouth only, no public listing — and Coldwell Banker created a brochure for prospective buyers describing the “warmth and elegance” of the place and crediting Joyce’s ambitious renovation efforts.

“Extensive renovations began in 2003 to add every modern amenity while maintaining its abundant historic character. With meticulous attention to detail and masterful millwork, the property offers four floors of exquisite living,” the broker wrote.

Trouble is, records at town hall show no permits for interior renovations on the property, except plumbing, since the year before Joyce bought the house in 2003.

Joseph Prondak, the town’s building commissioner, said there is no one left in his department from 2003. He said it’s possible that a developer pulled the proper permits when he worked on the house in 2002 before selling it to Joyce, and town inspectors didn’t realize how extensive the renovations were. The developer, Paul Sullivan, did not return calls for comment.

It is also possible, Prondak said, that Joyce’s contractors assured him they were obtaining permits but never did.

Generally, after a house undergoes significant renovations, it is revalued by the town for the next tax year, Bennett of the Milton board of assessors said. When homeowners have properly obtained permits for renovations, their tax bills typically increase.

But, whatever the history, the sales brochure clearly describes a house far larger and nicer than the town records show. According to Coldwell Banker, Joyce’s home has 13 rooms on four levels, six bedrooms, five-and-a-half baths, with a total living area of 6,444 square feet.

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Town records describe it this way: eight rooms on two levels, five bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, with a total living area of 3,854 square feet.

Joyce should pay a lot more in property taxes than the $11,711 he will pay this year, town officials say, since they are based on a much smaller home valued at only $867,500. His bill, they said, should be closer to the $27,459 a year that his neighbor Deval Patrick was paying before he sold his house earlier this year. Patrick’s former home was described in Milton’s records as 6,800 square feet (and was assessed by the town for $2,034,000).

Brian Joyce puts home on market for $1.725m
A brochure for the sale suggests that Joyce has done substantial renovations, apparently without town permits.
Listing information Milton town records
13 rooms on four levels 8 rooms on two levels
6 bedrooms 5 bedrooms
5.5 baths 4.5 baths
6,444 square feet of living space 3,854 square feet of living space

Town officials say they don’t know exactly when Joyce made the renovations, making it impossible to calculate how long he may have been under-taxed.

Though the marketing material says the renovations began when Joyce bought the house in 2003, the only permits in the town’s files after that year are for plumbing work done in 2010.

In 2002, Sullivan obtained permits for an estimated $110,000 worth of work, including installation of a new heating and cooling system and insulating the walls.

Then, in May 2003, after Joyce purchased the home, Joyce requested town permission to make outdoor improvements including redesigning the driveway, putting up fences, and “extensive plantings.”

But most of the renovations shown in the brochure are inside the house: a large finished basement with a media room, family room, sitting room, and bathroom and a finished third floor with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and several roomy closets including one measuring 15-by-6 feet.

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Bennett, the member of the town Board of Assessors, said he would be particularly disappointed if a state senator failed to get the proper permits for so much home improvement.

“It would set a poor example for everyone else and lead them to believe that, ‘if a state senator doesn’t do it, why should I?’” he said.

Joyce has come under scrutiny in recent years.
Joyce has come under scrutiny in recent years.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2014)

Even so, Bennett said, if a homeowner doesn’t volunteer information about renovations, his board has no recourse until the house is offered for sale publicly — currently, Joyce’s house is not listed on the MLS Property Information Network — or the house is sold. Then assessors can revalue the property. They cannot reassess retroactively, or seek penalties or fines, Bennett said, even if homeowners did not obtain required permits.

But town building officials, if they discover work was done without permits, can require the homeowner to hire a licensed contractor to rip apart some of the work so inspectors can “make sure things were done correctly,” said Prondak. The town could then issue a permit retroactively.

They can also impose a fine — triple the cost of the permit, which equals 1.2 percent of the value of the project.

If the owner is uncooperative, town officials can take extra steps by going to court to seek civil fines or criminal charges.

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“The goal it to make sure the house is built right,” said Prondak, adding that he probably will not investigate further because he doesn’t have the resources.

If Joyce’s house is not revalued before he sells it, the new owners may be surprised to see their tax bills are a lot higher than they expected.

“Believe me, it comes as a very big shock to that new property owner when they receive their bill that has been updated to include all the work done illegally,” said Bennett.

However, it could still take a while before Joyce can say goodbye to Milton, if Patrick’s experience is any indication. The former governor, who left office early last year, had his house on the market off and on for seven years before he finally sold it last month for $1.2 million — $725,000 below his original asking price.

Meanwhile, Joyce has at least recouped some cash from a Milton investment. In March, less than a month after FBI agents swarmed his Canton law office, he sold four burial plots at the Milton cemetery back to the town. For the plots, he received $11,200, records show.


Milton Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.