Attorney General James Applauds Passage of Legislation to Protect New Yorkers from Deed Theft

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today 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. 

“Last fall, the Senate held a hearing on deed theft and heard directly from impacted homeowners about this pernicious crime that robs families of their assets and fuels the exodus of longtime residents from communities like mine,” said State Senator Zellnor Myrie. “I'm grateful to the Attorney General and my colleagues for advancing this legislation, and look forward to passing additional bills to protect our vulnerable neighbors.” 

“Deed theft often takes advantage of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, literally ripping their homes away from them,” said Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, Chairperson of the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee. “Scammers often target elderly homeowners who are ‘house rich’ but cash poor. I am proud to have sponsored this legislation to provide the Attorney General, the New York City Sheriff, and our District Attorneys better tools to stay ahead of the fraudsters and keep homeowners in their homes. I am particularly pleased and grateful that Attorney General Letitia James has both worked with us to craft this legislation and importantly has devoted ample resources to the fight against deed theft. I am proud to join her in her efforts to fight these cruel thefts.” 

“We commend both chambers of the New York State Legislature for passing this important legislation (A06656/S6577) that protects New York's most vulnerable homeowners from deed theft,” said Christie Peale, CEO and Executive Director, Center for NYC Neighborhoods. “Black and Brown Americans still grapple with homeownership challenges as a result of racial discrimination. Deed theft is one of the leading causes of wealth stripping in our Black and Brown communities. It has denied many homeowners the ability to build generational wealth. This legislation provides the Attorney General the tools needed to protect homeowners at risk of displacement, and we look forward to the Governor swiftly signing this bill into law.” 

“The perpetrators of deed theft and other real property fraud are constantly changing tactics and honing their predatory practices targeting New York's most vulnerable homeowners,” said K. Scott Kohanowski, Director of Homeowner Stability Project, City Bar Justice Center. “These practices can have devastating consequences for the victims and often result in significant disruption and even homelessness. This new bill concerning civil deed theft proposed by Attorney General James, and passed by the New York Senate and Assembly, gives law enforcement and homeowner advocates a new arsenal of tools to level the field in this ever-changing landscape.” 

“These measures will go a long way in providing procedural and substantive protections to New York homeowners — primarily those in communities of color—who are targeted by deed theft scammers,” said Jacob Inwald, Director of Foreclosure Prevention, Legal Services NYC. “This bill will allow homeowners across the state to receive stays on evictions and foreclosures while law enforcement authorities investigate deed theft cases, make it harder for lenders and others who profit from these scams to invoke protections meant for innocent purchasers and lenders, close some of the loopholes in the existing Home Equity Theft Prevention Act, and make it easier for law enforcement agencies to restore title to defrauded homeowners.” 

“Neighbors Helping Neighbors has counseled scores of Brooklyn homeowners who have been victims of deed theft,” said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director, Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Fifth Avenue Committee. “It is shameful that low- and moderate-income homeowners, who are often seniors, are robbed of their most significant asset and their homes. I applaud Attorney General James and the state legislature in passing this bill to protect New York homeowners from this vial practice.” 

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, 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.