New York State Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed a crucial piece of legislation taking aim at deed theft, a type of fraud wherein property owners are defrauded out of the titles to their house.
“This legislation is New York’s strongest tool yet to crack down on illegal deed theft and put the American Dream back in the hands of thousands of New York homeowners,” Hochul commented of the legislation. “Deed theft cheats hardworking New Yorkers out of the opportunity to own and keep their homes and forces families out of their communities – particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. With the protections enshrined in this legislation, however, we are empowering homeowners and law enforcement to fight back against deed theft and keeping families, homes, and communities intact. I thank Attorney General James and the bill sponsors for their partnership in our mission to protect New York homeowners and for joining my administration’s continued effort to stop fraud, forgery, and abuse.”
The legislation, S.6577/A.6656, enhances deed theft protections in several ways, including empowering the Attorney General, local District Attorneys, and other law enforcement agencies working a potential deed theft investigation to move to stay any legal proceedings where the title or possession of the property is an issue, and requiring courts to grant the stay for ongoing or government-initiated civil or criminal investigations. These typically include evictions, foreclosures, and other ownership disputes.
“Deed theft robs New Yorkers, especially older adults and people of color, of the generational wealth built through owning their homes,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James of the legislation. “The perpetrators of deed theft force their victims to endure humiliating and terrifying situations, often evicting families from their homes. That is why I drafted and advanced legislation to address this problem and empower New Yorkers, and have used my office to go after deed theft perpetrators and raise awareness about this crime. I thank Senator Kavanagh and Assemblymember Weinstein for sponsoring this bill, and I commend Governor Hochul for signing it into law. 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.”
Additionally, upon finding any form of probable cause or filing criminal charges, both the Attorney General and District Attorneys may file a notice pendency to act as a ‘red flag’ for lenders and potential buyers to stop any further transactions.
“This legislation addresses many of the shortcomings in our laws that have allowed the outrageous crime of deed theft to occur all too frequently, and that prevented these cases from being resolved in a just manner,” New York State Senator Brian Kavanagh noted of the legislation. “Its enactment today is an important victory for many New Yorkers who have been robbed of their homes and whose communities have been targeted, and for those at risk of suffering a similar fate. I thank my legislative colleagues for their work helping to craft and pass this bill, especially Assembly sponsor Helene Weinstein and Senator Zellnor Myrie. Thanks also to Attorney General Letitia James for putting her own powerful voice and her office’s considerable resources and expertise behind this effort; the many public agencies and officials, legal services organizations, and housing advocates who testified at the Senate hearing that inspired this legislation; and, perhaps most of all, those who came forward with their own painful stories of falling victim to deed theft. Finally, I’d like to thank Governor Kathy Hochul for signing this legislation and for her steadfast leadership and commitment to justice.”
The legislation will also expand prosecutors’ abilities to void any fraudulent instruments that could affect ownership and/or interests in a property by allowing the Attorney General and district attorneys to further add to the list of crimes deemed the basis for the voiding of said instruments.
"Deed theft often takes advantage of the most vulnerable New Yorkers: elderly homeowners who are ‘house rich’ but cash poor; literally ripping them from their homes,” remarked New York State Assemblymember Helene Weinstein of the legislation. “It has been a privilege to work with Senator Kavanagh in co-sponsoring this bill, which provides the Attorney General, our NYC Sheriffs and District Attorneys with modern tools to stay ahead of fraudsters - keeping homeowners in their homes. I am particularly grateful to have worked closely with Attorney General James in crafting this legislation, and thankful for the support of Governor Hochul in the fight against these cruel and heartless deed thefts."