Gov. Kathy Hochul signs bill to combat deed theft
It gives recourse to New York homeowners
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation on Tuesday to protect against deed theft – a practice in which property owners are defrauded out of the property titles to their homes – at Brooklyn Law School, alongside New York Attorney General Letitia James, members of the legislature, legal services advocates, and several deed theft victims.
The legislation empowers the attorney general, local district attorneys and other law enforcement investigating deed theft, to move to stay any legal proceeding where possession or title to a property is at issue – such as foreclosures, evictions, and ownership disputes – and requires courts to grant the stay if investigations are ongoing or the government has initiated civil or criminal actions.
Upon finding probable cause or filing criminal charges, the attorney general and district attorneys now may file a notice of pendency as a “red flag” to make buyers and lenders aware of title issues to help stop further transactions from happening.
The legislation also expands the ability of prosecutors to move to void fraudulent instruments affecting ownership of and interests in property, by adding to the list of crimes that can be the basis for voiding the instruments and, for the first time, allowing the attorney general to do so in addition to district attorneys.
“There are some twisted, cruel people out there, hell-bent on scamming vulnerable New Yorkers, and they’ve been getting away with a lot,” Hochul told the captive audience, adding that particularly Black and Latino communities are preyed upon by these individuals.
Hochul pointed out that there were more than 3,500 deed theft complaints to the New York City Sheriff’s Office – and 1,500 in Brooklyn.
“Out of those cases, there had only been a handful of convictions, because the law was not on their side,” Hochul said. “So today is an important step forward; it’s long overdue. And let the message go out to all of those who have preyed on these individuals for far too long that your day is over. You will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and it must end right now.”
Deed theft occurs most commonly through forgery, when a scammer fakes a homeowner’s signature on a deed and files it with the county clerk, or fraud, when a homeowner unwittingly signs the deed over to a scammer.
James, who also spoke at today’s event, said that the reforms made through this new law will help protect New Yorkers, and better enable them to combat those who try and steal their deeds, their wealth, and their American dream.
“Deed theft robs New Yorkers, especially older adults, and people of color, of the generational wealth built through owning their homes,” James explained.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who co-sponsored the bill, pointed out that today is “an important victory for many New Yorkers who have been robbed of their homes and whose communities have been targeted.”
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