When Mercedes Sandoz fell behind on mortgage payments, a lawyer she didn’t know called her personal phone offering to help — by buying her East New York home for cash.
The mother of five also got daily fliers and knocks on her door from lawyers and investors. That’s because she was on a public list as being at risk of foreclosure.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 33 years, and in the last few years, I’ve felt like it’s a takeover,” said Sandoz, who bought her home in 2000 after years of renting in the area.
Now, she’s joined an effort to protect homeowners from harassment from real estate speculators by designating the neighborhood as Brooklyn’s only “cease-and-desist” zone — an area declared off-limits under state law.
Cease-and-desist protections would allow homeowners to opt into a list restricting would-be house flippers from contacting them — and hit violators with fines, criminal charges or loss of real estate licenses.
Local residents say the designation is badly needed in East New York: A 2018 Center for New York City Neighborhoods report that found investors were flipping more homes at higher rates and for higher profit margins in East New York than anywhere else in Brooklyn.
After a push by residents working with the Coalition for Community Advancement and state Sen. Julia Salazar’s office, the New York Department of State scheduled a public hearing on the cease-and-desist bid for March 5 at 5 p.m. at 127 Pennsylvania Ave.
The hearing marks a key step toward whether state officials find the “evidence of intense and repeated solicitations” needed to declare a cease-and-desist zone.
The Department of State gained the authority to grant neighborhoods cease-and-desist protections in 1989, but currently has only three designated zones in the city — all in suburban-style, largely white and Asian middle-class areas.
Two cover a swath of northeast Queens, including College Point, Whitestone, Bay Terrace and surrounding areas. The third covers the Country Club neighborhood in The Bronx.
Alexa Sloan with the Coalition for Community Advancement, a band of residents, businesses and houses of worship advocating for East New York and Cypress Hills, said locals have been collecting evidence of solicitation for more than two years. They’ve amassed 540 surveys detailing their experiences.
One of the residents who has been organizing for cease-and-desist protections, Linda Ford, installed a camera outside her house because of frequent visits from would-be buyers offering cash.
“I keep the door locked, and I don’t answer,” said Ford, who inherited her home from her mother and has lived there for more than 50 years. “Sometimes the notes they leave are handwritten, like they’re from a friend.”
After offering sums of cash for far less than properties are worth, many of those investors quickly resell the houses for far higher sums. Rampant flipping can put real estate prices out of reach for local buyers while bumping up existing homeowners’ tax bills.