Category Archives: gentrification

Why Black Homeowners in Brooklyn Are Being Victimized by Fraud

Broadies Byas was deceived into signing away the deed to her townhouse in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, after she fell behind on her mortgage payments, federal prosecutors said.

 

 

Broadies Byas’s home is a hidden gem. From the outside, it looks unassuming, if somewhat neglected.

But past the porch of the Victorian townhouse a rich interior reveals itself: tall ceilings, a mahogany staircase, stained glass doors and picture frames virtually untouched since the home was built in 1856.

The house, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, has an even more remarkable story — Ms. Byas’s father, a teacher who was born into a family of former slaves in South Carolina, bought it in 1957 for $7,500.

But now the house is going through a tumultuous chapter. Ms. Byas, 54, is working to reclaim it after she was duped into signing away her property deed, according to federal prosecutors. Though the house is worth about $1.2 million, she gave it up, unwittingly, for a mere $120,000.

“I pride myself as a true New Yorker — angry, skeptical, not trusting,” Ms. Byas said. “But I felt like the stupidest person on the planet.”

A booming real estate market in Brooklyn is fueling a crime that law enforcement authorities say has taken hold in largely African-American neighborhoods that are being gentrified — deed theft, which involves deceiving or sometimes coercing a homeowner into signing forms that transfer ownership of a property.

In many cases, a homeowner is made to believe the documents involve some type of financial assistance, but in fact turn out to be the property deed.

Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, both known for their collection of largely intact townhouses that cost a fraction of what similar homes sell for in Manhattan, have become hotbeds for deed theft, according to law enforcement authorities. Homeowners in Prospect Heights, Brownsville and East New York have also been targeted.

Real Estate Shell Companies Scheme to Defraud Owners Out of Their Homes

Of the nearly 3,000 deed fraud complaints recorded by the city since 2014, 1,350 — about 45 percent — have come from Brooklyn, according to data compiled by the city’s Department of Finance. (The borough accounts for roughly 30 percent of the city’s housing units.)

The authorities believe the problem may be more widespread since homeowners may not realize right away that they have been victimized.

“It’s just a drop in the bucket,” Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, said at a recent town hall meeting in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “It’s really hot in the real estate market in Brooklyn. People want to steal our homes.”

In Ms. Byas’s case, which led to the arrest of a man and his son, the aim was to flip her home and try to resell it to buyers who have been flocking to central Brooklyn seeking more affordable homes in lower-income neighborhoods.

ImageHomeowners in largely African-American neighborhoods, like Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, have become targets of deed theft.  
Credit…Elias Williams for The New York Times

Those orchestrating the schemes often hide behind limited liability companies and shell companies, making it difficult for homeowners to determine if they are being swindled and by whom.

“By the time a homeowner realizes what has happened, the home may have already been sold or mortgaged multiple times,” said Christie Peale, executive director of the Center for N.Y.C. Neighborhoods, a nonprofit organization that helps homeowners.

Even though rising property values in neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant have provided homeowners with more equity, many remain cash poor.

As they grow older or lose a spouse, their homes can accumulate liens stemming from unpaid property taxes or water and sewage charges, making them vulnerable to fraudsters who often search public records to identify homeowners under financial stress.

“Deed theft has become a common tool of career criminals and unscrupulous real estate developers to illegally obtain real estate, most often with the goal of selling it at a huge profit in high-demand housing markets,” Letitia James, the state attorney general, said in an email.

Dairus Griffiths, 65, has been mired in a five-year legal battle to recoup his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant after he was ensnared in a scheme and ended up giving up the house, which was worth $1.3 million, for $630,000.

Mr. Griffiths was facing foreclosure after a tenant stopped paying rent, causing him to fall behind on his mortgage payments.

Not long after foreclosure proceedings began, a man named Eli Mashieh approached Mr. Griffiths claiming to run August West Development, a real estate firm in Queens, according to Theresa Trzaskoma, Mr. Griffiths’s lawyer.

He told Mr. Griffiths that he was going to lose his house and offered him a cash advance, Ms. Trzaskoma said. Feeling pressured and fearful that he would soon be evicted, Mr. Griffiths signed a document selling his home for $630,000, believing it was a preliminary sales agreement that he would have the chance to reconsider.

After talking to his daughter, Mr. Griffiths did try to cancel the sale, but when he called Mr. Mashieh he refused, saying it was a done deal. Mr. Mashieh obtained a default judgment and the sale eventually went through.

Image

A brownstone building under renovation in Bedford-Stuyvesant. 
Credit…Elias Williams for The New York Times

But Daniel Richland, a lawyer for Mr. Mashieh, disputed Mr. Griffiths’s claims and said a court had effectively ruled that the sale was legitimate.

Some homeowners may not even know that their deeds have been stolen, the authorities say. Documents proving the sale of a property are recorded by the city registrar’s office, but not necessarily checked to ensure that they are legitimate. Owners might continue paying the mortgage for a property they no longer own.

“It is, in fact, easier to steal ownership of a home than actually burglarizing it,” said Travis Hill, who oversees real estate fraud for the state attorney general’s office.

Recovering a home whose deed has been illegally transferred can be difficult unless there is clear proof of wrongdoing, like a forged signature. In one case, the authorities arrested a man accused of committing fraud because the signature on a deed came from someone who had been dead for years.

It is also challenging to determine whether the person had entered a bad, but not necessarily fraudulent, financial deal. “It’s often a very hard line to straddle,” said Noelle Eberts, a lawyer at the New York Legal Assistance Group who represents Ms. Byas.

In Ms. Byas’s case, two men, Herzel Meiri, 64, and his son, Amir, set up a limited liability company called Launch Development.

The two men instructed employees to search online for financially distressed properties in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, according an indictment filed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Ms. Byas was among 60 homeowners the two men, along with five other accomplices, were accused of swindling.

The men described themselves as foreclosure specialists who helped property owners with loan modifications or promised that they would be able to transfer their properties to trusted relatives to avoid losing their homes.

Homeowners were encouraged to sign documents that were later used as proof they had agreed to sell their homes to Launch Development, prosecutors said.

The company also deceived banks into approving the sale of homes by providing falsified documents, including paperwork edited or completed after homeowners had signed them.

“Launch Development resold many of the homes, which were purchased at fraudulently deflated prices, for an enormous profit,” the indictment read.

The Meiris pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Herzel Meiri was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in August 2018, and Amir Meiri to five years’ imprisonment in November 2018.

Ms. Byas’s ordeal began in 2008, after she learned she had multiple sclerosis and could no longer work. By 2014, she owed about $69,000 in unpaid mortgage payments and other bills and was facing foreclosure.

She believed a second mortgage would prevent her from losing her home.

One day, a young man rang her doorbell claiming he worked for Homeowners Assistance Services of New York, an organization specializing in foreclosures that turned out to be linked to Launch Development.

He was polite, had a cherubic face and was someone Ms. Byas said she would feel comfortable inviting to a cookout. “When you’re in a panic, you think, ‘I can’t believe my luck,’” she said.

After several visits from the man, Ms. Byas was taken by a private car service to Launch Development’s offices in Queens, where she described being, at various turns, cajoled or pressed into signing reams of documents. Instead of a loan agreement, she had signed a deed document, giving away the title to her home.

In total, the company schemed to buy her home for $120,000, about 10 percent of the property’s value. She was able to show that she had been swindled because the check came from Launch Development, which had been on the radar of law enforcement authorities.

Still, five years later, the title to her property is in the hands of the government and she is waiting to hear when she will get it back.

“We were living the American dream,” Ms. Byas said. “This is a house that your ancestors worked for. They came from nothing.”

Real Estate Shell Companies Scheme to Defraud Owners Out of Their Homes

7-Year Fight to Reclaim a House Stolen in the Wave of a Pen

Think You Own Your House? Check the Deed

Source: The New York Times – By Oct. 21, 2019
Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura was previously based in London, where she covered an eclectic beat ranging from politics to social issues spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Born and raised in Paris, she speaks Japanese, French, Spanish and Portuguese. @kimidefreytas  Facebook
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Hamilton housing sales to soar through 2016

This will see the Hamilton housing market continue outperforming other locations, according to economists and other industry observers.

Figures from realtors’ organizations stated that as much as 16,000 properties have been sold in Hamilton and Burlington last year, amounting to around 9 per cent more homes sold between January and November 2015 than in the same period in 2014.

This momentum is projected to see Hamilton retain double-digit growth well into 2016, according to Diana Petramala of TD Economics.

While such a rate would be unsustainable in other areas, Hamilton currently enjoys a healthy market fuelled by stable prices and a relatively high per capita purchasing power, Petramala added.

Economists also cited the historically low interest rates as a primary driver of the increased purchase volume in 2015.

Analysts warned that this frenetic growth rate is not beneficial for everyone, though. Especially affected are first-time buyers who get the short end of the stick in bidding wars and lower-income households who might face added pressure in the form of possible price spikes in 2016.

This is seen as a major contributor to the rising popularity of rentals, since those living beneath the region’s income average tend to gravitate towards more affordable options. However, even Hamilton rentals have not proven immune to price increases. In fact, rents rose as sharply as 3.8 per cent last year, mostly due to gentrification.

Source: MortgageBrokerNews.ca by Ephraim Vecina | 14 Jan 2016

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Is Hamilton the Canadian Brooklyn?

After years of downturn, Brooklyn made a huge turnaround. Is Hamilton following its lead?

Two cities go under the microscope Monday to find an answer to a burning question of identity: is Hamilton actually Canada’s answer to Brooklyn?

It’s all part of an Ambitious City event hosted by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce that explores the cultural identity and economic heartbeat between the two.

Considering resurgent Brooklyn has been on an upswing for years and is often considered one of the coolest places in America, Hamilton and its chamber would be positively giddy at that comparison bearing fruit.

But can you really compare Hamilton to a bustling metropolis of 2.6 million people?

Let’s try it out.

Industry downfall and finding an identity

Once part of the industrial heart of the U.S., manufacturing in Brooklyn dropped by about half from the 50s to the 90s.

Things were gloomy for quite a while, until neighbourhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick sprang back to life starting in the late 90s – mostly fuelled by artistic types fleeing high rents in Manhattan.

Sound familiar?

There is a caveat here, though. Brooklyn’s revival started much earlier than Hamilton’s, so they are way further along in the process. If Hamilton is really lucky, the city could be where Brooklyn is now in about a decade.

Do they have LRT?

Public transit in Brooklyn destroys Hamilton. Full stop.

Sure, LRT is coming, and that will radically change how people get around in Hamilton. For some, it’s a beacon of modern transit that will haul Hamilton into the future (or at least to the present).

But the New York subway system is one of the best in the world. Daily ridership numbers are in the millions – meanwhile in Hamilton, we’re still waiting for HSR to get on Twitter. (But at least we got Presto on buses before Toronto did!) Edge: Brooklyn.

Is Manhattan Brooklyn’s Toronto?

Hamilton’s Toronto complex is so deeply ingrained that “Argos suck!” could be a Balsam Avenue baby’s first words.

There’s a definite rift between Brooklyn and Manhattan, too – and a deluge of people have moved out of there because they can’t afford rent.

Take this “luxury” Manhattan two-bedroom, listed at a startling $5,895:

Brooklyn apartment

Two beds, two baths, and almost $6,000 in Manhattan. (Streeteasy.com)

You aren’t living in Manhattan these days without a heavy cash flow. There’s some definite disdain in Brooklyn for its high-priced neighbour. Edge: Tie, different scales but clear parallel.

Rents

So if Brooklyn is a haven for young people and artists fleeing the rest of New York City, are the rents comparable to Hamilton?

Yes and no. A two-bedroom in trendy Williamsburg can run you over $4,000, which is a rarity on local equivalents like James Street North or Locke Street. Keep in mind that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world, behind only places like London and Monaco.

In some more far-flung neighborhoods and artist enclaves, you can share a two-bedroom for maybe $1,400. That makes it a steal by New York standards and an analogue to Hamilton compared to Toronto’s higher rents. Edge: Hamilton

But can I get a decent cup of coffee?

You can tell a lot about a place by its coffee – and as the birthplace of Tim Hortons, Hamilton has a special claim to the fuel that keeps Canada going at hockey rinks on weekends at 6 a.m. There is also a burgeoning coffee culture in many areas for those who like their brew a little more upscale.

In Hamilton, a cup off coffee will run you around $2 to $3 on average. In Brooklyn, you can get a coffee cart cup for a buck, or go to Blue Bottle Roasters and shell out $10 for a cup. Edge: Brooklyn, but only because of the carts.

Do they have any famous musicians?

Musicians: Brooklyn has Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G. and Peter Criss. Hamilton has Teenage Head, Daniel Lanois, Arkells and Tom Wilson. Tough call – but nobody likes Peter Criss, so edge: Hamilton.

Their bridge vs. our bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges on earth. A guy drove a dump truck into the Skyway one time. Edge: Brooklyn.

Are there any famous Brooklyn comedians?

Brooklyn has Jerry Seinfield, Hamilton has Martin Short. That’s gold Jerry, gold! Edge: Brooklyn.

Their teams, our teams

The Ticats are deeply entrenched in Hamilton’s soul, and the now-OHL Bulldogs are keeping hockey alive in the city. Brooklyn has two major franchises: the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the NHL’s New York Islanders but both are fairly new to the city. It’s been a long time since the Brooklyn Dodgers. Edge: Hamilton (because we’re worried Angelo Mosca will come after us otherwise).

What about parks?

Hamilton’s most famous park is probably Gage Park (it’s more “park-ish” than Gore Park, which is still arguably the heart of the city). Brooklyn has the iconic prospect park, which was built by the same designers as Central Park. Edge: Brooklyn.

Their view, our view.

We love our escarpment, our waterfalls. The views from Sam Lawrence Park or the Dundas Peak are sweet. Their view however, is sunset of the Manhattan skyline. Edge Brooklyn.

Brooklyn skyline

This is the view from the Brooklyn Promenade. (Rick Hughes/CBC)

Source:  Adam Carter, CBC News Posted: Nov 14, 2015

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