Deed Theft Crackdown: New York’s on a Roll

New York State Attorney General Letitia James is championing a cause near and dear to our hearts: safe and secure deeds.

On the last day of July 2023, the A.G. announced an indictment of a Long Island resident for deed theft. Joseph Makhani faces two counts of criminal possession of stolen property and one count of fraud.

Makhani allegedly filed forged deeds and related documents in order to take two Harlem brownstones. Makhani’s state tax returns indicate that he got these homes for $10 a piece. The actual, combined value of the two buildings? More than $4.7 million.

This isn’t just about property value. Lives were upended. As A.G. James declared, “The fear and confusion unleashed on New Yorkers when they learn their homes have been stolen out from under them is something no one should have to endure…”

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“Deed Theft” Is a Crime, Says New York Legislature

Bill Passes, Awaits the Governor’s Signature

On June 24, 2023, New York’s lawmakers passed a bill to create the crime of deed theft and help New Yorkers hold onto their homes. The state’s Attorney General, Letitia James, has been vocal about the need for new legislation to help keep New Yorkers in their homes.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assembly member Helene Weinstein sponsored the legislation. The lawmakers drafted it in direct collaboration with A.G. James herself.

“This legislation provides the Attorney General the tools needed to protect homeowners at risk of displacement,” A.G. James said in a press release, adding: “[W]e look forward to the Governor swiftly signing this bill into law.”

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New York’s Attorney General Gets Tougher on Deed Thieves

New York Attorney General Letitia James has announced a new package of legislation to create the specific crime of “deed theft.”

Deed theft occurs when someone conveys a property deed to another party without the informed consent of the rightful owner. The new law against it is meant to bolster the remedies available under New York’s real estate deed protection measures, and to make prosecution easier whenever New York state residents fall victim to shady deed shifting.

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Amid New York City’s Rampant Deed Theft, One Victim Wins

Residential units in New York City

Brooklyn property values are going up. And there are plenty of opportunists looking to steal deeds. In the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn in New York City, Dairus Griffiths just triumphed over those opportunists.

In the past decade, Brooklyn has lost many of its Black and Hispanic residents, as gentrification reshapes the district. Serial fraudsters and their limited liability companies aren’t making life any easier for longtime residents. They scour public records for the most vulnerable and indebted homeowners.

Deed cheats use the shell company structure to blur the identities of holders. The manipulators lie to their targets; they forge deeds; and they move houses from one LLC to the next. Identifying and charging these manipulators becomes very hard to do.

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Start Spreading the News: Blockchain Deed Recording Comes to New York City

New York City’s Department of Finance is trying out blockchain. Can the technology make recording and keeping deeds a better process? The test run, handled by Medici Land Governance (MLG), will find out whether the method will work in a massive city, the company stated in August 2021. MLG is owned by — an early adopter of blockchain in the retail sphere. Its blockchain recording system is proven to be tamper-resistant and easily searched.

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The Sweet New York Condo Tax Deal

Image of newspapers on a table

How Long Must This Show Go On?

Homes in New York can have high property tax assessments. By default, home values are assessed at market prices. In contrast, homes classified as condos receive deep discounts when they’re assessed. The result? Some people pay a lot more to cover county, township and school taxes than other people pay — even if they live in homes of similar value.

A free-standing house can be called a condo if the builder has that goal in mind, and many do. New York builders can sell homes for higher prices if they advertise a sweet deal on property taxes. Some of the undertaxed condos are mansions, filled with luxury features, worth a million dollars or more. Why should their buyers pay less in local taxes?  

Builders insist that their condos are rightly entitled to tax breaks. Many condo owners are downsizers, they say — seniors and others who pay high association assessments and fees.

But that’s irrelevant to property taxation, which is meant to maintain the infrastructure of the surrounding township, to provide emergency services, libraries and schools. All property owners support strong school districts; and that, in turn, upholds their property values.

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