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It Just Got Harder for Crooks to Steal Your Home

Fraudulent deeds have become such a widespread problem that the city’s Department of Finance (DOF) has a website and a booklet devoted to the subject. To combat the scammers, the DOF has instituted a system to notify property owners whenever any deed- or mortgage-related documents affecting ownership are recorded. To receive such notifications, condo boards can complete the online form by going to http://bit.ly/ACRISNotice. Or they can print out the form at http://bit.ly/ACRISpdf, then fill it out and send it via snail mail. (Individual condo units have deeds; co-op units do not.)

But are the notifications adequate protection? In disclaimers on its website and on the form, the DOF seems to think not, saying it “assumes no liability for failure to provide the requested notice of recorded documents” – and moreover, the city “assumes no liability for fulfilling [its] legal duty to record documents, even if those documents are in some instances later determined to be erroneous, fraudulent, or invalid.”

A case now being heard in state appellate court, Merin v. the City of New York, could determine if the city is responsible when it improperly hands over deeds. The case was initiated by Jennifer Merin, a senior citizen living in Manhattan who inherited her late mother’s house in Queens – only to discover that an ex-con had acquired a fraudulent deed to the house and moved in. Merin had to spend her life savings to evict the man, his two sons, and their pit bull, and then go through additional legal maneuvering to regain her home. If Merin, who’s seeking restitution for legal fees and stolen/destroyed property, doesn’t win on appeal, it will probably take legislative action to make the city take responsibility for such nightmarish scenarios.

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