New York City Tax Lien Sale…Land Piracy at Its Best!

As the deadline approaches for New York City homeowners to set up arrangements to pay property and water taxes with the City of New York Department of Finance, I began to make the parallel of how this practice is “land piracy at its best.”   Now, to obtain a greater understanding of how the tax lien sale is piracy, one must be able to relate to the meaning of the word, which can be compared to a “hijacking on the high seas;” or, in similar contexts “taking a ship or plane away from the control of those who are legally entitled to it.”   

Resource: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=piracy 

Now, when one thinks of this in the context of a home, the strict reading of the definition of piracy does not work, but one of the single greatest aspects of the English language is the availability and creation of analogies.  For those of us that are not familiar with the tax lien sale process, if a homeowner owes the City of New York property or water taxes and does not pay those taxes, the debt is sold to a third party and the debt must be paid to said third party with 18% interest (lets call that ransom).  If the debt is not paid, the third party has the right to foreclose on the property or in this instance take the property from the control of those who are legally entitled to it. If that is not piracy, I don’t know what is! 

Last weekend, I was knocking on doors of district residents with community organizers to notify homeowners that their property was on the tax lien sale list and, therefore, subject to foreclosure if action was not taken immediately.  I handed out literature with the incumbent’s name on it, while keeping in mind he voted for this measure in 2004. Moreover, Bedford Stuyvesant has nearly the highest number of properties on the list in the City.  

Resource: http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/vote_records.php?s=3&id=36&cm=73 

The amount of senior citizens that are going to be affected by this is staggering! I can’t stop hearing commercials about how the economy is struggling and about how so many companies are willing to do business differently to accommodate those affected by this downturn and I ask, “Why isn’t the City doing the same?” 

I am 100% for collecting these taxes because they are vital to the services of our great City; but I am also 100% against selling these tax liens to third parties in light of present economic conditions.  Why isn’t the City of New York Placing a moratorium on the sale of these tax liens in the same manner that the federal government has recommended of mortgage companies, which resulted in a 3-month halt in the filing of new foreclosures. 

Property taxes were raised 7.5% this year. Water taxes were raised 14.5% last year, with an additional hike coming in July 2009. MTA is raising fares. Tenants cannot pay their rent and/or afford increases in rent to compensate for these increases. Where will the money come from if the City and its current group of City Council Members do not provide relief when it is needed the most?   

Please keep in mind the hidden factor that has not been mentioned, the homeowner’s credit will be affected. Once that happens, life as the homeowner knows it; will take on a whole new set of rules because by today’s standards having bad credit is a form of covert incarceration.  A homeowner can be as free as a bird with no criminal record, but if no one will give him/her a job, loan, insurance or a place to live based on their credit that is as close to being incarcerated as you can get.  Jobs and loans are hard enough to come by these days, even with perfect credit. 

In politics, it is always easy to provide criticism without solutions, so if I am given the honor of serving the residents of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, I will propose the following amendments and advocate that the City should only sell tax liens for owners that fit one of the following criteria: 

  1. Properties with 3 units or less, whose owner has been delinquent for a period of 5 years or more; or
  2. The amount of taxes owed equals 75%  or more of the home assessed value (the value the NYC Department of Finance uses to determine how much a homeowner’s taxes are); or
  3. The property is a multi-dwelling unit with 4 units or more.

In the current economic climate, credit card companies are halting their current payment structure along with the automobile industry and every other business on the planet. Make no mistake, the world is going through a recession and if this city is going to be run like a business, then run it like a business. Amend and/or delay the sale of these tax liens, so homeowners do not have to worry about adding the possibility of being homeless to the list of their other problems and expenses.  It is time for the City Council to step up and if they don’t; let them know about it at the polls in September!

Saquan Jones

Candidate for Brooklyn’s 36th District City Council Seat