2020 Tax Lien Sale To Go On As Planned

Queens Cases
The borough of Queens. Credit: Dquai, Wikimedia Commons

Despite an outcry from Queens electeds and other lawmakers in the city, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is going ahead with the city’s annual tax lien sale on Friday. 

Originally set to take place in May but postponed because of the pandemic, New York City’s controversial 2020 Tax Lien Sale is scheduled for September 4. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated outreach to property owners, the lawmakers opposing the sale said. Under normal circumstances, they might be able to avoid having their lien sold and their property at risk of being seized. Going forward with the sale will further exacerbate the impacts of the pandemic, they said, and disproportionately affect homeowners of color. 

“Homeowners facing the lien sale need ample time to consult with attorneys, enter into payment agreements, and learn about exemption programs ahead of the sale,” said State Senator Leroy Comrie (D-Briarwood, Cambria Heights, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Hillcrest, Jamaica, Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Kew Gardens, Laurelton, Queens Village, Rosedale, South Jamaica, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans), the sponsor of a Senate bill cancelling the sale, in a press conference on Wednesday in lower Manhattan. “COVID-19 has made this all but impossible to do on the scale that we need it to happen.”

The press conference on Wednesday in lower Manhattan. Photo courtesy of Sen. Comrie’s office.

More than 3,000 liens on single to three family homes set to be sold. The property owners had until Thursday, September 3 to pay their debt –– an overdue property tax, sewage or water bill –– or enter a payment plan with the city to prevent the lien on their property from being sold to a private lien servicing company. Of the city council districts with the most properties listed, three are located in Southeast Queens. 

In a press briefing on Thursday, de Blasio said that the properties listed on the tax lien sale list were behind on payments before the pandemic.

“These are not situations caused by the coronavirus. These are situations that predate the coronavirus,” de Blasio said.

The sale will go forward as planned, de Blasio said, because the city is in a tough fiscal situation and needs revenue to pay for healthcare workers, educators and first responders. 

“I believe the dollar figure projected is $57 million. That’s a serious amount of money. So this moment, you know, I think when you add up all the factors and especially that it does predate the crisis, this is scheduled to move forward,” he said. 

But for the lawmakers opposed to the sale, the fact that the property owners went into the arrears before the pandemic is besides the point. The pandemic has devastated the economy and homeowners need relief. 

“With thousands in our city struggling with the economic effects of the COVID – 19 pandemic, including many homeowners in my Assembly district and across Queens, it is absolutely unconscionable to hold the tax lien sale in 2020,” said State Assemblymember David I. Weprin (D-Richmond Hill, Fresh Meadows), the Assembly sponsor of state legislation to eliminate the 2020 lien sale in New York City. 

City Councilmember Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, South Ozone Park), whose district is in the top five of districts with the most properties listed for the sale, said that the sale won’t help the city recover, it will hinder it. 

“We must ensure that financial hardships are not heightened at this time and cancel the lien sale,” she said.