Monday, January 16, 2017

State Appeals Court Hears Senior Citizen's Request To Hold NYC Responsible For Accepting & Recording Forged Deed Used By Since-Convicted Scammer To Swipe Her Unoccupied, Inherited Queens Home

In New York City, Habitat Magazine reports:
  • Fraudulent deeds have become so widespread that the city’s Department of Finance (DOF) has both a website and a booklet devoted to it. The DOF has also instituted a notification process for property-owners whenever any deed- or mortgage-related documents affecting ownership are recorded. To receive such notifications, you can fill out an online form here or print out the form here to mail in. (Condo units have deeds; co-ops unit do not.)

    But the notification of deed changes may not be adequate protection. In disclaimers on its website and on the form, the DOF says 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." One woman, however, is fighting back.

    On Friday, January 13, the case of Merin v. The City of New York [was scheduled to] be heard by the state Appellate Court in Queens, and it could determine whether the city bears any legal responsibility for improperly handing over deeds.

    The appeals court is being asked to overturn an earlier ruling by a state Supreme Court judge that a city recording clerk "owed no duty…and indeed had no authority, to investigate the authenticity of the underlying transaction…and thus whether or not the deed was fraudulent…."

    "Basically, the city's stance is that they are not responsible for anything more than stamping the paper and collecting the fee," says Jennifer Merin, the senior citizen fighting for damages after the city gave away her house – forcing her to wipe out her life savings in legal fees in order to get it back. "Their position," she maintains, "undermines the security of all deed-holders' – [including] condo-owners' – rights."

    Merin, who lives in Manhattan, inherited her late mother's home in Queens, and she keeps many belongings there. In May 2014, noticing a spike in the water bill, she went to investigate – and found the locks changed, the car she stored there gone, and furniture and heirlooms missing or piled in a broken heap.

    She notified police, but the new resident, ex-con Darrell Beatty, showed the responding officers a fraudulent March 2013 deed purporting that one Edith Moore – a dead woman, Merin later discovered – had transferred the property to him. Merin had to gather proof that she was the rightful owner and then file to evict Beatty, his two sons, and their pit bull. The case took four months – during which time Merin was still paying property taxes and utility fees. It took even longer, until March 2015, to get the fraudulent deed set aside. Merin filed suit against the city five months later. Queens prosecutors did charge Beatty, who pled guilty in June 2016 to criminal possession of a forged instrument.

    If Merin, who's seeking restitution for legal fees and stolen/destroyed property, doesn't win on appeal, it likely will take a legislative change to make the city take responsibility when it gives away your home.

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