Last-minute reprieve stops city’s tax lien sale

Cuomo, de Blasio both announce that they postponed sale

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James (Getty)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James (Getty)

UPDATED, September 5, 2020, 4:54 p.m.:
New York City’s annual tax lien sale was pushed back at the 11th hour Friday — and both state and city officials are taking credit for giving homeowners and landlords a break.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced an executive order Friday delaying the city’s lien sale on overdue property taxes, water and sewer bills until at least Oct. 4. Minutes after the governor’s press release was blasted out, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced separately that the city would postpone the sale through Sept. 25 — the differing date reflecting the two administrations’ apparent failure to communicate. On Saturday, one day after the initial announcement, James released another statement underscoring that the state’s order supersedes the mayor’s decision. She said her office would take action against the city if it tried to resume the sale in September.

“Make no mistake: If any local government, including New York City, attempts to enforce liens during that period, my office will move to stop them and protect homeowners,” she said.

The city’s Department of Finance administers the sale, selling the owners’ outstanding debt to a nonprofit trust that can ultimately foreclose and take control of the property.

The sale was initially slated for May, but the city put it off until Sept. 4, citing the financial pressures of the pandemic. But in the weeks leading up to the sale, real estate groups, housing advocates and elected officials called for the city to postpone the sale again. On Wednesday, James, along with state and city elected officials, held a rally outside the Department of Finance’s headquarters to pressure de Blasio.

According to the Brooklyn Eagle, James indicated that barring city action, she would call on Cuomo to “step in and stop this madness.”

“As the economic impacts of Covid-19 rage on, the tax lien sale puts an unnecessary financial burden on New York’s homeowners, and especially communities of color,” James said in a statement Friday. “It is the responsibility of government to relieve the financial hardships of the people wherever possible, not exacerbate them.”

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But the city is also suffering financial hardship, with a deficit in the billions of dollars. Selling tax liens would have raised tens of millions — a veritable rounding error, given the size of the budget gap. Still, de Blasio had resisted postponing the sale again until Friday.

“Covid-19 has hit the pocketbooks of New Yorkers hard, and we’re doing whatever we can to give New Yorkers some relief,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Representatives for the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Critics of the lien sale have complained for years that owners sometimes lose properties because they do not realize they were in arrears. “We urge the city to lay out a robust plan for contacting and assisting at-risk property owners over the coming weeks,” said a number of Queens elected officials Friday in a press release applauding the postponement.

Jay Martin, who runs the small-landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program, also cheered the news.

“The tax lien sale would have done permanent damage to thousands of struggling building owners and their tenants,” he said. “But this is just a temporary measure. Renters in New York still badly need help from the federal government. It is past time that Congress acted.”

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at

This story was updated to reflect a statement issued by Letitia James on Sept. 5.