Legislation Passed to Protect New Yorkers From Deed Theft

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James applauded the State Legislature for passing legislation, sponsored by State Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, that will reform the state’s civil laws to provide more tools to prevent deed theft and help New Yorkers stay in their homes. The bill, drafted jointly with Attorney General James, is part of ongoing efforts to combat deed theft and keep New Yorkers in their homes.

“Deed theft robs New Yorkers, especially older adults and people of color, of their most valuable asset,” said Attorney General James. “Homeowners rarely have any idea that they are the victims of deed theft, and only find out when they are forced to endure humiliating and terrifying situations to try and keep their own houses. This legislation will help New Yorkers to fight back against deed theft, and will empower local officials to better address this heartless and heinous crime. I thank Senator Kavanagh and Assemblymember Weinstein for sponsoring this bill and I commend legislative leadership for advancing it forward. The civil reforms made through this legislation will help protect New Yorkers and better enable them to combat the criminals who try and steal their deeds, their wealth, and their American Dream.”

Deed theft occurs when someone uses fraud or forgery to wrongfully take the title of another person’s property without the legitimate homeowner’s knowledge or consent. It disproportionately impacts elderly homeowners and homeowners of color, especially New Yorkers in gentrifying neighborhoods. The bill, co-authored by Attorney General James and passed by the Legislature, will enable prosecutors to effectively file legal ‘red flags’ on homes where deed theft is suspected, which will help ensure scammers cannot take out loans against the ill-gotten property. The legislation will also make it possible for New Yorkers to remain in their homes and stay eviction proceedings when they can show reasonable evidence that deed theft against them occurred. Additionally, this bill will expand the protections of the Home Equity Theft Prevention Act (HETPA), which allows homeowners in distress to cancel any contract to sell their property, to move New Yorkers.

In addition to helping advance legislation to combat deed theft, Attorney General James has taken significant action to protect New York homeowners. In December 2022, Attorney General James announced the indictment of five members of a deed theft ring for allegedly stealing three homes worth more than $1 million in total from elderly, vulnerable homeowners in Queens. In February 2021, Attorney General James announced an $800,000 grant, funded by Office of the Attorney General (OAG) settlements, to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Center for New York City Neighborhoods as part of a program aimed at increasing awareness of deed theft in vulnerable neighborhoods. In January 2020, Attorney General James launched the Protect Our Homes initiative and announced the formation of an interagency law enforcement task force to respond to Deed Theft and other real estate fraud.

New Yorkers who believe they are a victim of deed theft are encouraged to contact OAG by calling 1 (800) 771-7755, emailing deedtheft@ag.ny.gov, or filing a confidential complaint online.

The Homeowner Protection Program, a network of housing counselors and legal services providers throughout New York supported by OAG, offers free housing counseling and legal assistance statewide. Homeowners can contact HOPP online or call 1 (855) 466-3456 to get help.

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