What is “deed theft,” and how are New York leaders fighting it?

On Behalf of | Jul 1, 2024 | Title Issues

Most people have never heard of deed theft until they become the victim of it. Typically, the way criminals “steal” a home’s deed is through fraud or forgery. It often happens after a homeowner dies without a will (intestate). 

These homes can be a source of generational wealth. However, they are too often stolen out from under family members who inherit them under New York intestacy laws. However, these heirs may live nowhere near the home or even be aware of it. For those living in the homes, however, like surviving spouses, deed theft can result in eviction.

Older people are often the targets of this crime. So are people of color and those whose homes are in foreclosure or have liens on them. Often, the properties are in areas that are becoming “gentrified,” where home values have increased substantially. Fraudsters can swoop in, steal the title and sell the home for a hefty price or get heirs to sell their portion for far less than the actual value.

What does the new law enacted last year do for homeowners?

Political leaders in New York State acted last year to try to minimize the problem of deed theft and other “predatory deed transactions.” Last November, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law that was written with the guidance of the Attorney General’s Office. It’s intended to help prosecutors deal with those who engage in these fraudulent transactions and keep unsuspecting victims in their home. 

Homes in Brooklyn and Queens have been the primary targets. However, a representative of the Bronx District Attorney’s Office noted that the added protections “will serve our victims well as we prosecute the case.”

Among other things, the law gives authority to state and local prosecutors that has been lacking. It also gives more protections to homeowners whose homes have liens or are in foreclosure to prevent having their home sold out from under them when these fraudulent transactions have occurred. 

A general lack of government oversight has been blamed for the deed theft problem that has plagued New York City for years. More than 3,500 deed theft complaints have been filed with the NYC Sheriff’s Office in just the past decade.

If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of deed theft, it’s wise to seek experienced legal guidance. This can help homeowners protect their rights and their homes.