Cuomo delays New York City tax lien sale, sparing financial burden for homeowners

Photo by Dean Moses

Thousands of homeowners were spared another financial burden after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order stopping the city’s tax lien sale on Friday, Sept. 4.

Every year, the city’s Department of Finance sells the tax lien claims of homeowners who have been unable to pay property or water bills to private debt collectors. The sale was scheduled to take place on May 15, but was postponed until Friday, Sept. 4. due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It is the responsibility of government to relieve the financial hardships of the people wherever possible, not exacerbate them,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a joint statement with the governor’s office.

James recently joined a coalition of activists and over 50 other elected officials in calling for the removal of close 4,700 low-income homes located in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Buildings on the sale list are traditionally disproportionally located in communities of color.

“COVID-19 caused enormous disruption in the daily lives of New Yorkers, including their ability to keep a roof over their head,”  Cuomo said. “The tax and water lien sale was delayed in May in recognition of this hardship, and given the current economic climate, it makes sense to delay it again so that homeowners aren’t facing further uncertainty. This measure is part and parcel with our ongoing efforts to help New Yorkers weather the ongoing public health emergency.”

Queens officials — including state Senators Leroy Comrie and John Liu, Assemblyman David Weprin, City Councilwoman Adrienne Adams and Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee — applauded Cuomo’a action to further delay the tax and water lien sale after James andPublic Advocate Jumaane Williams had joined the group of Queens lawmakers on Sept. 2 to demand that the annual sale of homeowner’s debt be cancelled outright.

“The 2020 tax and water lien sale was rightfully delayed in May due to the unprecedented uncertainty and economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. The families in Queens that we represent and those throughout New York City are still struggling, which is why we called on the Mayor to take immediate action to cancel the lien sale,” Lee, Comrie, Liu, Weprin, Adams and Councilman I. Daneek Miller said in a join statement on Sept. 4.

“We thank Governor Cuomo and Attorney General James for recognizing that the 2020 lien sale posed an urgent threat to working New Yorkers and for taking immediate action to save thousands of families, nonprofit organizations, and houses of worship from the abuse of predatory debt collectors by stopping the lien sale scheduled for September 4. We urge the city to lay out a robust plan for contacting and assisting at-risk property owners over the coming weeks,” the group added.

Just minutes after the governor issued the executive order, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a contradictory statement delaying the sale until Sept. 25, to grant New Yorkers more time to pay outstanding debts or sign up for payment plans. It is unclear how the executive order will impact the supposed delay.

“COVID-19 has hit the pocketbooks of New Yorkers hard, and we’re doing whatever we can to give New Yorkers some relief,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Postponing the lien sale will allow New Yorkers more time to work with the City on their best path forward.”

In the statement, City Hall advises property owners having trouble making property tax payments to take advantage of several DOF programs including exemption programs to lower the total amount of taxes owed, payment plans or a Property Tax and Interest Deferral program. The DOE can also provide a monthly property tax billing service to facilitate budgeting for property owners on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. For more information on these programs visit here.