Brooklyn Boro

LISTEN: Exploring the city program residents call ‘deed theft’

August 8, 2019 By Scott Enman, Paul Frangipane, Lawrence Madsen
Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane

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The program gives apartment buildings’ deeds to nonprofit and for-profit caretakers in response to unpaid taxes or bills.

But some residents who have raised objections with the program have said their properties were threatened for debt amounts disproportionate to their current property value. Among them is 75-year-old Marlene Saunders, whose more than $2.2 million home was almost taken over a $3,792.20 water bill.

“We were completely caught off guard about it,” said Saunders’ son Paul Saunders. “How can this happen to someone that’s worked their life to provide a stable home as well as to pass on a legacy to their children, how can that be taken away?”

The city did eventually reverse its decision to take the home. 

Related: LISTEN: Deed theft at crisis levels in Brooklyn 

Lisa Talma, HPD’s assistant commissioner, said TPT is a critical tool to stabilize properties and protect tenants. 

“This is a tax enforcement tool, so the primary goal is for owners to either pay their taxes in full or enter into a payment plan and the majority of properties that were in the most recent rounds, were able to do just that,” Talma told Brooklyn This Week. “This is not deed theft.”

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Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, however, has labeled the program racist and called for a federal investigation into it.

And while Councilmember Robert Cornegy, who represents a large portion of Brooklyn’s last seizures, did previously sign off on properties entering the program, new legislation proposed by him would give councilmembers a more comprehensive analysis of how the homes are specifically distressed.

The proposed legislation would also raise the program’s tax lien threshold from the current $1,000 to $100,000.

“The Third Party Transfer program, as it is operating presently, is in need of wholesale reform,” Cornegy said in an email statement. “Ultimately, I am optimistic that we can work with HPD through a working group to achieve fair and equitable reform. But I will move forward keeping in mind that communities like the one I represent were disproportionately targeted, and the intergenerational wealth at risk.”

  • Interview with Kelly Mena at 1:22
  • Interview with Paul Saunders at 7:41
  • Interview with McConnell Dorce at 8:43
  • Interview with James Caldwell 9:14
  • Interview with Lisa Talma at 9:53

Our host Lawrence Madsen is a native New Yorker. He graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in History, and volunteers with the disaster relief group Team Rubicon.

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  1. Captplanet

    Have you considered reporting on the tax lien sale program? That’s the 800 pound gorilla where the City gives away billions of dollars in property to private investors. TPT is peanuts in comparison.