NEW YORK (PIX11) — The prosthetic leg of 72-year-old Joseph Clarke serves as a constant, painful reminder of the nearly decade-long journey he and wife, Jacqueline, undertook to reclaim the rights to their home in Canarsie, Brooklyn. They were victims of deed theft.

“My blood pressure rose because I was so stressed out about what was going on,” said Clarke.

Deed theft occurs when criminals prey on vulnerable homeowners who are often behind on their mortgage and/or taxes. Instead of offering a financial lifeline, homeowners are deceived into signing away the deed to their home.

“Somebody says they’re going to help you. OK, help me. But they weren’t helping me, they were helping themselves. Guys came in a big Rolls-Royce. He said, ‘Mr. Clarke, we own your house now, and you have to pay me rent.’ I said, ‘What?'” said Clarke.

The couple’s nine-year battle finally ended this year with the return of their deed.

“I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere! You’re going to take me out in a body bag,'” said Clarke’s wife, Jacqueline.

They joined their attorneys and New York Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday to witness Gov. Kathy Hochul sign into law new legislation that provides more protections for at-risk sellers, including the ability to cancel a contract.

“Giving victims more power to their rights in civil court. Today is an important step forward. Long overdue,” said Hochul.

James added, “Deed theft steals generational wealth from Black and brown communities. And it’s gone on for far too long.”

According to Legal Services NYC, which represented the Clarkes, the number of New York families experiencing mortgage distress has increased 6% since last year.

In just the first eight months of this year, courts have already seen 11,000 new foreclosure case filings.

Brooklyn Legal Services senior staff attorney Jenny Eisenberg handled the couple’s case.

“It’s deeply, profoundly unjust that they had to fight for this long. I wish that everyone would have the opportunity to connect up with free legal services,” said Eisenberg.