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Directs Insurance Department to Work with Title Companies; Creates New Hotline

New York, January 29, 1999

Governor George E. Pataki today announced that State Insurance Department officials have taken steps designed to protect homeowners in counties that are being sued by the Federal government and Indian Nations in land claim lawsuits.

"We are working with the title insurance companies to ensure that every homeowner is protected from unfortunate lawsuits brought by the Federal government and Indian Nations against the people of upstate New York," Governor Pataki said.

"I have pledged the full power of State government in support of the homeowners and we intend to honor that pledge," the Governor said. "We will not allow the Federal government nor any Indian Nation to take property or homes away from the people of upstate New York."

The Federal government's involvement in the New York Indian land claims took a dramatic turn for the worse when the United States Department of Justice announced in December that it would ask the court to include more than 20,000 private landowners as defendants in the Oneida land claim dispute.

In the amended court papers, the Federal government and the Indian Nations are seeking the ejectment of these residents from their homes.

"The Federal government and the Indian Nations' decision to widen this lawsuit is wrong and without justification. We will stand with the people of Madison and Oneida counties as we work to resolve this 20-year-old dispute," the Governor said. "We have repeatedly sought to resolve the land claims through fair and good-faith negotiations. However, we have yet to receive a formal response to the offer we made more than 18 months ago.

"We have read and heard what the Indian Nations have said in the media, but that is not how you reach a settlement," the Governor said. "That is why we support the appointment of a settlement master to get the Indian Nations back to the negotiating table where a fair solution can be reached."

Senator Raymond A. Meier said,"The Governor's intervention with major title insurance companies in the land claim area underscores his primary commitment to protecting the rights of property owners."

Oneida County Executive Ralph J. Eannace Jr. said, "The efforts of the Governor and the State Insurance Department in response to our call, have helped us to reassure people in the land claim area that their properties remain fully marketable, and that is an important step. We are grateful to the Governor for this quick assistance. It also helps us to clear the way for the wider, comprehensive negotiations that must take place with all parties to resolve this claim without jeopardizing anyone's private property."

At the Governor's direction, State Insurance Department officials this week met with representatives of Madison and Oneida counties, and Monroe Title Insurance and Chicago Title Insurance -- the two major title insurance underwriter's in Upstate New York.

The meeting was designed to allow county representatives to relay the concerns expressed by their residents affected by the land claim, and to allow the State Insurance Department to ensure that land owners in the land claim area are being treated fairly by the title insurance industry.

According to the title insurance representatives, neither of the major title insurance companies have changed their title insurance coverage as a result of the land claims. People who currently have title insurance will be covered to the full extent of their policies. Also, new home purchasers -- and those who refinance their homes -- will be able to obtain title insurance that will provide them with full protection as well.

As a matter of policy, some title insurance companies will not issue new title insurance policies to homeowners if more than one year has elapsed since the homeowner closed on his or her house. However, this policy pertains to homeowners everywhere, and is not related to the Indian land claim dispute.

"We are confident that we will protect every homeowner, making title insurance for long-time homeowners unnecessary," Governor Pataki said. "However, I have asked the Insurance Department to work with the title insurance companies to develop ways to protect all homeowners who want this protection."

Governor Pataki warned residents of reports that unscrupulous individuals are sending mass mailings into the land claim area offering to determine whether residents are within the land claim area, and whether they should obtain title insurance, in exchange for an up-front fee. Residents can call 1-877-9-ONEIDA toll-free if they have questions about a dubious offer.

"Unfortunately, there are always unscrupulous individuals who seek to prey on people's fears," Governor Pataki said. "You can protect yourself by using our hotline to check out any of these claims and report problems. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Use the hotline to check it out."

The Insurance Department is investigating these reports, and the appropriate action will be taken against any unscrupulous individuals who are seeking to profit from the fears of land owners in the claim area in violation of the State Insurance laws. When considering title insurance options, only deal with reputable title insurance companies. Home owners who have questions regarding a specific title insurance company should call the State Insurance Department before signing any agreement, or sending any money.

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