Hundreds of Bed-Stuy homeowners at risk of losing their properties

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By Aimena Lipscomb

A staggering 750 homeowners from Bedford-Stuyvesant are on the verge of losing their properties due to the city’s tax lien sale.

When property owners do not pay their property taxes, and/or water, sewer and other property-related charges, the city can file a legal claim for collection called a tax lien.

The property owner’s debt includes unpaid taxes and charges, as well as the associated interest. Any property owner that owns two- and three-family homes and owes $2,000 and a year in water/sewer charges, $3,000 and a year in taxes and $1,000 and a year in property-related expenses (emergency repair loans), that property is eligible for the lien sale.

The issues some property owners are facing is the lien sale notices and where the published list can be found. The list is posted on the Department of Finance (DOF) Web site as well as in local newspaper, but some senior and/or disabled homeowners aren’t able to access the Internet to check the list, leaving them unaware of sale or blind to the fact their property is eligible for sale.

The timeline for notices of the sale are as follows: the initial 90-day notice, which can be found in local newspapers; 60-day notice; 30-day notice, which will be posted again on April 13. There are also two notices mailed directly to the said eligible property.

There are three ways to avoid having property sold. Pay the charges in full, set up a payment arrangement with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which handles sewer and water charges, or find out if you qualify for one of the following exemptions: Senior homeowner exemption (SHE), Disabled homeowners exemption (DHE), real property tax credit for homeowners, veterans exemption and active-duty military personnel.

The deadline to resolve and avoid the sale is May 17.

“If you have received a lien sale notice, or if the property was on a published lien sale list, it is best to act immediately,” explained April Tyler from Comptroller John Liu’s office at the recent Community Board 3 meeting.

That said, the main issue that Bed-Stuy is focusing on is awareness of how tax liens work.
“Help is available and it’s within the community,” said community activist Brenda Fryson. “The church families need to be involved and neighbors need to come together on this.”

Fryson said “people need to understand the importance of awareness, especially for the seniors.”
For 11 years, the Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Inc., in collaboration with community partners, have been actively notifying homeowners (primarily the seniors) with information on the assistance programs available.

“A large number of the lien sale list consists of seniors with water liens,” said Brownstoner President Ava Barnett. “For that reason, the Brownstoners of Bed-Stuy have developed door-to-door outreach programs visiting about 90 percent of the listed homeowners and delivering packages with details of the lien sale and ways to get help, allowing these older homeowners to keep their properties.”

Barnett also credited City Councilman Albert Vann as being instrumental with the outreach program.
“Councilmen Vann was the only Council member who voted against this bill presented by the DEP to place water liens on properties,” Barnett said. “He (Vann) also implemented the notification policy, which forced the DEP to formally notify homeowners of their debt in addition to their property being placed on the lien sale list. In the past they did not have to notify residents.”

Local community officials and a host of community partners strongly encourage any resident in question or who needs assistance to attend the Help Night from 5-8 pm on May 2 at Restoration Plaza.
For more information below are other contacts concerning tax liens:

NYC Department of Finance’s (DOF) Web site to find out if your property is on the list
http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/property/property_bill_taxlien.shtml
Go to the check the eligibility checklist
http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/pdf/lien_sale/exemption_checklist.pdf
NYC Department of Finance Outreach Unit (212) 440-5408
NYC Department of Finance Senior Ombudsperson (212) 440-5407
NYC Department of Environmental Protection (water/sewer) (718) 595-7000
NYC CVomptroller’s Office (212) 669-3916

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