renter-300x169Recently in the news are proposals by the Biden administration regarding policies to allegedly protect rental tenants.  According to the stories, multiple federal agencies are strongly considering taking actions that are designed to strengthen tenant protections and encourage rental affordability.  Of course, experience has shown that well-intentioned government actions often do not have the intended results, and often worsen situations that they are designed to ameliorate.

Due to the extreme reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is currently a shortage of residential housing, especially in large cities.  This is likely a result of the various eviction moratoriums during the pandemic, which resulted in tenants remaining in housing without paying rent.  The effects of these moratoriums, even if they are no longer in effect, continues to the present day.  Local landlord-tenant courts are still trying clear the backlog of eviction cases that occurred during the moratorium, especially in large cities such as New York.  As a result, new renters are finding that, due to a shortage of supply, rental units have increased greatly in price, as the law of supply and demand has superseded governmental regulation.

The government is proposing executive action to direct the Federal Trade Commission to issue new regulations defining “excessive” rent increases, as well as other protections for renters, such as forcing landlords to wait at least thirty days before commencing eviction proceedings for non-payment of rent.

taxlienPrior blog posts have discussed the concept of surplus monies in foreclosure proceedings.  When a foreclosed property is sold at public auction, the winning bid may exceed the total amount owed to the entity foreclosing on the property.  In such a case, the excess funds are considered “surplus funds,” and the Court-appointed Referee will then deposit the surplus funds with the New York State Department of Finance, which has the authority to disburse the funds to the proper party, upon receipt of a Court order from the Court that handled the original foreclosure case.

Most foreclosure cases involve mortgage debt to an institutional or individual party, usually involving the amounts borrowed by the owner in order to purchase the property, or a loan taken out on the property after it is purchased, such as a second mortgage.  However, there is another category of foreclosures that may generate surplus funds – tax lien foreclosures.

Tax lien foreclosures occur when the owner of real property fails to pay property taxes due on his property.  Unless the property is tax-exempt, such as a property owned by a non-profit or religious institution, there are generally local real estate taxes, such as village, city, school, and county taxes assessed to the property.  Depending on where the property is located, one or more of these taxes would be assessed to the property, either on an annual, semi-annual, or other type of payment schedule as determined by the taxing entity.

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We were “all shook up” to hear the surprising news of the untimely death of Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley.  Ms. Presley passed away in California.  She may have had a Will that directed the disposition of her assets.  This post will address the legal result if Ms. Presley had died in New York without a Will, legally defined as intestacy.

Ms. Presley could not “help falling in love.”  She was engaged five times and married four times.  All of her marriages ended in divorce.  Her former spouses would not inherit under the New York intestacy statute.  Since Ms. Presley was survived by her children, her Mother Priscilla Presley, who also survived her, would not inherit any of her assets.

The intestacy statute would provide that Ms. Presley’s surviving children would inherit her entire estate.  Tragically, Ms. Presley’s son predeceased her.  If her son left a surviving child, such grandchild would inherit the son’s share.  If there was no surviving grandchild, then the son’s share lapses and is to be shared with his surviving siblings.  It should be noted that two of Ms. Presley’s daughters were only fourteen years of age at her death.  As a result, a Guardian is likely to be appointed by the applicable Court to manage the inherited assets on behalf of the underage children who cannot inherit outright.  Guardianships typically last until the child is 18 or 21 years of age, depending upon the circumstances.

hockeyIt is not uncommon for children from a prior marriage to have a legal dispute with a surviving spouse concerning a Will.  The New York Post recently reported that the children of deceased hockey legend Rod Gilbert have sued his surviving widow concerning the disposition of his estate.  Hockey Hall of Famer Gilbert was a beloved Rangers player, known as “Mr. Ranger,” and was the all-time leader in goals and points for the blue shirts.  He accumulated a significant collection of memorabilia and enjoyed material wealth.  He married his second wife thirty years before his death.

The children from his first marriage have alleged that the stepmother pressured Gilbert to change his Will on his deathbed to eliminate them from receiving the collectibles and substantial cash.  There has been a claim that, during his lifetime, Gilbert promised to leave his children particular assets and that the documents prepared in his final days did not reflect promises made.  Suspiciously, the Gilbert home was sold less than two weeks before his death and the proceeds were then “not available” to pay monetary bequests to the children.

The stepmother in this case presented a letter allegedly signed by Gilbert that reversed the prior bequests of memorabilia to the children and instead gave them to his wife.  It should be noted that a letter is usually not valid to change the terms of a properly executed Will.  In order for a Will to be legally valid in New York State, it needs to comply with the Statute of Wills.  In addition, any amendment or revision to a Will needs to be accomplished by a Codicil that also needs to comply with the Statute of Wills in order to be legally valid.  A less formal “letter” is highly unlikely to comply with the requirements of a Codicil in order to amend the Will terms.

crashNews outlets have reported on the untimely death of actress Anne Heche.  The late actress was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs when she crashed into a Los Angeles area home.  She died shortly thereafter from injuries suffered in the crash. As to the unlucky homeowner, the crash caused a fire that destroyed the house and all of the possessions inside.  The homeowner has sued the Heche Estate for damages suffered in the crash.  This post will address how an Estate is to properly handle legal claims.

This author is not privy to details as to whether Ms. Heche had a Will.  If she had died in New York, her estate would be managed differently depending upon whether she had a Will.  A person can engage the services of an experienced attorney to prepare a Will and other estate documents that memorializes one’s wishes for the distribution of assets upon death, names those persons to serve as Executor, names guardians for minor children and other details.  When there is a Will in New York, one’s estate will be handled through a probate proceeding in Surrogate’s Court.  Should a person not have a Will, the estate will be distributed according to the law of intestacy.  In the case of intestacy, the surviving relative in the closest degree of relationship will serve as the Administrator.  Administration proceedings are also brought in Surrogate’s Court.

An Executor or Administrator, as the case may be, is a fiduciary and is obligated to address claims made against the Estate and pay liabilities before making distributions of assets as directed in the Will or in accordance with the intestacy statute.  The homeowner who has sued will have her claim addressed by the fiduciary appointed in the Heche Estate, who will most likely seek legal advice and respond to the Complaint.  The fiduciary’s role is to responsibly address claims, evaluate if they are legitimate and attempt to have them reduced before paying such claims with estate assets.  That way, the fiduciary is also preserving estate assets, which is another legal obligation of a fiduciary.

foreclosure2As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to fade, many legal cases that were temporarily postponed by the Courts, such as foreclosures, are resuming and going forward in litigation.  During the COVID-19 era, foreclosure cases, along with evictions, were stayed by executive order.  That meant that if a lawsuit had been filed to foreclose a property, the Courts did not move the case forward, and simply “froze” the case, pending the end of the pandemic.

Recently, with the waning of COVID-19 and the realization that we will never be completely free of the virus, the Courts in New York have lifted the stay on foreclosure matters.  This means both that new foreclosure cases may be filed, and also that existing cases may continue moving through the Courts.

With the economy in recession, and home interest rates rising due to efforts to forestall inflation, many borrowers may now find themselves at risk of foreclosure.  This post will discuss what to expect in a foreclosure case now that the Courts are “back to normal.”  This review will assume that the property in question is residential, and is the primary residence of the homeowner.  For primary residences, there are laws in place to assist homeowners, which do not necessarily apply to cases involving commercial properties or “second homes.”

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