Black homeowners in Brooklyn’s hot market today must navigate deed theft, fraud and various scams to hold on to their homes, even during this pandemic.
Others are facing the threat of foreclosure when the moratorium on foreclosures ends in January. The threat of foreclosure brings dubious foreclosure rescue scams of all types. Many go to the courts, hoping for a respite, but generally there is little help in the courts and there are not enough legal service providers to go around to help the many people in Brooklyn with legal issues regarding their homes.
“Something is not correct in the courts,” was the pained comment of Deidre Galloway, 72, discussing her five year long battle over the deed to her home.
Her fight in the court has been paused by the pandemic, but is ever present in her mind. Ms. Galloway has lived in Brooklyn for 70 years. Her parents, were African American teachers from North Carolina, who moved to Brooklyn when she was just two years old. They bought a house in Bed-Stuy and raised a family. By the time Ms. Galloway was starting high school in 1963, they bought a second home, a six bedroom house on a tree-lined block of stately townhouses in Clinton Hill.
Ms. Galloway says, “It was nothing but doctors and lawyers. You couldn’t buy a home on this block if you were of color.” Her mother surpassed redlining by buying the home from the Catholic Diocese. She recalls, “We were one of the first two Black families.” As an adult, she lived elsewhere in Brooklyn with her own family, but in 1992, she returned to live at the Clinton Hill home which remains in her family. She lived there happily until 2016, when she received a text message from a man named Earl. “He said he had bought out the rights to my property,” she recalls. She learned that her nephew Lloyd Plummer had sold Earl his stake in the property. Lloyd was an heir to his deceased mother’s estate—Ms. Galloway’s sister—which was being wrapped up at the Surrogate’s Court in Brooklyn.
Soon after that text, Earl filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to force Ms. Galloway to sell the house, so that he could collect on his portion of the property. On the first day of court, her nephew Lloyd appeared and told the judge: “Earl promised to pay me $210,000, but he never did.” Ms. Galloway believed since the contract was not met, it would have been regarded as null and void; however Earl pressed on, and the judge allowed the case to proceed—and for the home, now valued at $4.9 million, to be sold. Earl’s only proof of a contract was a print out of text messages from her nephew saying, “When are you gonna give me the money?” In the beginning, Earl had a lawyer, Ms. Galloway did not. She was retired and couldn’t afford one.
Soaring demand for single-family homes in Brooklyn, have forced prices upwards. The average sales price passed $1 million in 2018. Median sales reached $808,000. Homes in Black neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens — are the second most in-demand in the borough. These are all communities where for several decades, the homeowners were mostly African Americans with roots in the South, or immigrants from the Caribbean. With the heightened demand for homes in Central Brooklyn, homeowners became bombarded by predators, and speculators seeking homes and land to build luxury apartment buildings. Jay Inwald, Director of Foreclosure Prevention at Legal Services NYC says that his agency has encountered a variety of scams used against homeowners in Brooklyn including deed theft, partition scams, foreclosure rescue scams, sham foreclosure prevention representation, and short sale scams. Partition scams such as the one Ms. Galloway has been subjected to, are one of the most popular. In these situations with jointly held property, a relative who may be on drugs or with mental health issues or other challenges is targeted; or one co-owner is induced to sell his or her share for absurdly low price. The purchaser then attempts to force a partition sale in order to pocket the equity.
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The reporting By Ms. Mafundikwa was made possible by a generous grant from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).