City Council renews tax lien sale for one year

Interim measure exempts certain property owners

Queens Council member Adrienne Adams and Mayor Bill de Blasio (NYC Council, Getty, iStock/Illustration by Alexis Manrodt for The Real Deal)
Queens Council member Adrienne Adams and Mayor Bill de Blasio (NYC Council, Getty, iStock/Illustration by Alexis Manrodt for The Real Deal)

UPDATED Jan. 28, 2021, 4:05 p.m.: The City Council on Thursday renewed the city’s tax lien sale for one year, while exempting some property owners affected by the pandemic.

In a 39-8 vote, the City Council approved a bill that will renew the sale of liens on delinquent property taxes, water and sewer bills for one year, rather than the usual four, after failing to agree on a comprehensive reform.

The bill exempts those who own 10 or fewer units, one of which is the owner’s primary residence, and who can demonstrate financial hardship from the pandemic.

The measure differs substantially from a bill introduced by Queens Council member Adrienne Adams in December which renewed the lien sale for four years and based exemptions from the sale on the assessed value of properties.

The December version permitted owners of properties with an assessed value of less than $250,000, who experienced financial hardship related to the pandemic and who could show annual income of less than $150,000 to avoid the lien sale.

That bill, introduced at the prompting of the de Blasio administration, drew criticism from housing advocates and others, who argued that the sale has a long history of disproportionately affecting homeowners of color. Lien sales can lead to foreclosure.

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The new version of the measure exempts more property owners and mandates the creation of a 12-person task force to study the feasibility of transferring overdue taxes to community land trusts, land banks and mutual housing associations.

The task force must present its findings and recommendations by Nov. 1. The bill also increases the minimum amount of debt that makes properties eligible for the lien sale. For example, the threshold for one- to three-family homes was increased to $5,000 from $1,000.

“These are major steps that will protect vulnerable low-income households in the 2021 lien sale and pave the way for a substantial rethinking and replacement of the lien sale in the future,” Adams said during a meeting held by the Council’s Finance Committee earlier on Thursday.

Last year elected officials repeatedly postponed the lien sale, which was originally slated to take place in May. In December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo halted all lien sales through Jan. 29, though the law governing the city’s sale expired at the end of 2020. Around that time, Cuomo signed a bill that, in addition to expanding residential eviction protections, barred lien sales through May 1 for owners experiencing financial hardship.

Those who voted against the bill during the full Council meeting commended Adams, but said they believed the lien sale should be ended. Brooklyn Council member Kalman Yeger urged his colleagues not to renew the sale, saying that he couldn’t bear the idea of being responsible for its return.

“End this misery that is being inflicted on our communities,” he said. “This is not the time for it.”