Sunday, June 20, 2010

Some, Not All, Property Owners to be Protected by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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Homeowners in some sections of Queens are being offered protection from predatory real estate agents who use scare tactics to create and then cash in on their investment insecurities.

New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez announced last week that the neighborhoods of Woodhaven, South Ozone Park, Whitestone, Bellerose, Bayside, Queens Village and the Rockaways — as well as parts of northeast Bronx — have been declared cease-and-desist zones, which means real estate brokers and salespersons are prohibited from soliciting homeowners in those areas.

“The purpose of the cease-and-desist rule is to protect the public,” Cortes-Vazquez said. “After studying this issue for the last year, and hearing evidence that homeowners within the proposed zones have received frequent mailings, unwanted flyers and pesky telephone calls, as well as door-to-door visits soliciting the sale of listing of their property, we have determined that placing parts of the Bronx and Queens under the cease-and-desist rule will protect the thousands of New Yorkers in these neighborhoods who are planning to remain in their homes in the forseeable future.”

Once a cease-and-desist area is established, homeowners who want to be placed on the cease-and-desist list must fill out a form located on the Department of State website or can call the Division of Licensing Services at (518) 474-4752 with any questions.

Those homeowners who registered on the last list will have to re-register, as is required every five years.

Cease-and-desist protection laws stem from the real estate practice of blockbusting, in which real estate brokers solicited white property owners and told them racial or religious minorities were moving into their neighborhoods, which they claimed would cause property values to plummet. Owners were then encouraged to sell their homes at a loss.

The entire borough of Queens was entitled to cease-and-desist until 2009, when the five-year term expired and state officials decided soliciting was no longer a problem that required protection.

But Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) says many residents in neighborhoods like Howard Beach and Ozone Park were diligent about placing their names on the cease-and-desist list last time around and are now going to lose out on protection because the law worked so well.

At a borough-wide hearing in Ozone Park that Pheffer held soon after the law expired, many residents came forth to share stories of how they had been propositioned by real estate agents and brokers, many of whom were now attempting to profit off the foreclosure and subprime mortgage crisis.

“Now it’s a bad economy and real estate agents are coming and saying ‘look, you should take what you can get because you’re going to lose money on your house,’” Pheffer said. “A lot of people, especially seniors, get scared because they don’t want to lose their investment.”

Anyone who received a solicitation from a real estate agent is encouraged to report it to Cortes-Vazquez’s office, as she will consider expanding cease-and-desist protection to other areas as needed.