Bill would renew city’s tax lien sale, add Covid escape hatch

Delinquent owners could be spared by showing pandemic-related hardship

De Blasio and Council member Adrienne Adams (Getty, New York City Council)
De Blasio and Council member Adrienne Adams (Getty, New York City Council)


After the state repeatedly postponed the city’s tax lien sale, a City Council bill would renew it for another four years, but add exceptions for delinquent property owners.

The bill, sponsored by Council member Adrienne Adams and backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, would continue the annual sale through Dec. 31, 2024.

Under the measure, non-vacant properties with assessed valuations of less than $250,000 would be exempt for all of 2021 if the owners can prove they were adversely affected by the pandemic. They would also be required to show their income was less than $150,000 for the most recent calendar or fiscal year.

Critics of the tax lien sale have been pushing for its abolition. In a press release Tuesday, a representative for a coalition of housing advocates — which includes East New York Community Land Trust, Housing Justice for All, the Community Service Society and several City Council members — said Adams’ bill came as “a shock,” given her previous opposition to the sale.

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A representative for Adams could not immediately be reached for comment.

The coalition and a dozen City Council members sent a letter to the mayor and Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Tuesday, calling on the city to adopt “responsible and equitable practices” to collect unpaid debt from property owners, rather than renewing the lien sale, which can lead to foreclosures by private investors.

The letter states that revenue from the sale would do little to relieve the city’s budgetary woes and is “outweighed by the harms caused to Black and Brown small-home owners, who end up mired in a compounding high-interest debt.”

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order postponing the tax lien sale through the end of the year, marking the sixth time it has been delayed since May.

Under the law governing the sale, which was enacted in 1996, the city’s Department of Finance sells outstanding overdue property taxes, water and sewer bills to nonprofit trusts that can foreclose on the property. The law was last renewed in January 2017 and expires at the end of this month. Adams’ bill appears to be on the agenda for the Council’s finance committee meeting Wednesday.