Attorney General James Fights to Keep New Yorkers in Homes

In Letter to Mayor de Blasio, AG James Calls for Delay of NYC Water
and Tax Lien Sale as Homeowners Continue to Recover From COVID-19

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today took action to protect the homes of hundreds, if not thousands, of New Yorkers. In a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Attorney General James calls on the City of New York to postpone its water and tax lien sale — which could force many New Yorkers out of their homes because of an unpaid water or tax debt — until the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is over, or at least until federal funds allocated already to prevent foreclosures have been dispersed.

“New Yorkers must be given the chance to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic without being forcibly removed from their homes,” said Attorney General James. “New York City should be more attuned to the precarious state of New Yorkers’ budgets as the pandemic continues to bear down on its residents. Putting homeowners in a position where their homes are like to be foreclosed upon in the midst of the pandemic is wrong and short-sighted given that federal funding will be released in the coming weeks or months to prevent foreclosures. This public health crisis has exacerbated the impact of lien sales on our vulnerable communities, and we must do all we can to allow them time to apply for federal funding, while also supplying them with the resources to help them recover. That’s why this water and tax lien sale must be delayed. Now is the time for New York City to look ahead and come up with something more than a short-term fix for the tax lien sale. It’s time to create a better and more just system for New Yorkers.”

Though federal funding for homeowners to avoid foreclosure is impending, the City of New York plans to move forward with the water and tax lien sale in December. As the city works to quickly remove New Yorkers from their homes, this program will offer hundreds of millions of dollars in homeowner relief in New York and will undoubtedly save the homes of hundreds, if not thousands, of New Yorkers. In today’s letter, Attorney General James requests that any lien sale is delayed until these federal funds are fully disbursed.

Additionally, the city’s efforts to remove New Yorkers from their homes is being made despite the fact that 90-day notices sent out last month from the city did not include a copy of the hardship declaration that would allow exemptions for people who have experienced economic hardship related to COVID-19. Further, there have been no in-person outreach events that would allow for New Yorkers to ask questions and obtain resources that could help them be removed from the lien sale.

Attorney General James requests that the city hold until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, or at least until federal funds allocated already to prevent foreclosures have been distributed.

In the past, Attorney General James has repeatedly advocated for reform to the lien sale program to remedy its effects on New York’s most vulnerable communities and help stabilize neighborhoods across the city. In December 2020, Attorney General James sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Cory Johnson urging New York City to utilize community land trusts and land banks for delinquent properties, in an effort to ensure residents could stay in their homes.

In August 2020, Attorney General James — joined by 57 local, state, and federal officials — urged the delay of the city’s annual tax and water lien sale. Four days later, the former governor temporarily halted the sale with an executive order.