churchsale
We wish to share a recent news article  with our readers concerning whether selling real estate owned by religious institutions to developers benefits congregants and the neighborhood in general.  Many properties owned by religious institutions have been owned by the organization for decades and, during that time, served the needs of congregants.  However, perhaps over the years the particular population of a religious denomination in an area has dwindled and the institution is currently serving a greatly reduced number of congregants.  In addition, long-held properties may be facing deferred maintenance issues such as a roof that needs replacement and the like.

Of course, real estate developers have always been hungry for a good deal and target congregations that may own such obsolete properties.  Such developers seek to demolish the religious building and change the use entirely, perhaps to build luxury apartments to be sold for a handsome price.  As a result, not only does the religious institution cease to exist, but the character of the neighborhood may change.  Persons served by the soup kitchen in the church will have to find somewhere else to go while a wealthy developer will count his money.

The law in New York does provide some safeguards  for congregants in this situation.   As we  have discussed in prior posts , a New York Religious Corporation seeking to sell, lease or buy property, or obtain a loan backed by a mortgage on property it owns, must obtain approval of the New York State Attorney General’s Office .  The Attorney General reviews a petition presented by the institution in support of the contemplated transaction.  Such petition needs to contain the governing documents of the religious institution, proof of the due calling and required vote of the trustees and congregants as needed by the governing documents and a complete description of the transaction in an affidavit.  In sum, the Attorney General is also looking to confirm that the proposed deal benefits the congregants.  For instance, if the transaction reduces mortgage debt and the new mortgage has more favorable terms, the Attorney General is likely to approve it.  In the alternative, if the building is sought to be sold and a new building may be built in a distant location which prohibits attendance by current congregants, the Attorney General may determine that such a deal will not adequately serve the needs of current congregants and will be rejected.

fairway
We  endeavor to inform our readers as to relevant news pertaining to our region.  One of the Fairway grocery stores located in Rockland County  closed yesterday.  This store is part of a chain comprising approximately fifteen stores.  As reported , the tenant was in year six of its commercial lease.  Most commercial leases  are likely to be for a term of at least ten years, with options to renew.  As such, the tenant likely is vacating before the end of its lease term.  Although this author  has not personally reviewed the lease at issue, this post will discuss the provisions customarily contained in such commercial leases and the issues raised when the tenant leaves before the end of the lease.

Fairway represented that it decided to close this particular location not because of the overall financial health of its company.  Other anchor tenants  at the shopping center had already closed, which caused decreased customer volume for the grocery store that adversely affected its revenues.

Landlords  typically negotiate the following provisions in leases.  The rent due escalates through the end of the lease and the tenant forfeits its security deposit if the tenant vacates early.  In order to avoid such costly penalties, the tenant may try to find a replacement tenant to whom the lease can be assigned.  When the lease is originally negotiated, an experienced attorney  will negotiate a liberal assignment clause so that the tenant can more readily exit the lease if the business is not successful at the location.  That way, the landlord will be required to accept another tenant located by the tenant that is leaving the shopping center.

changes-300x199Recent blog posts have discussed sweeping changes to New York State’s regulations for rental units.  These changes were recently passed by the state legislature, and signed into law by Governor Cuomo.  A prior post discussed the changes regarding rent regulated units. However, many rental units, especially in Westchester County, are not subject to rent regulation.  They include premises with fewer than six rental units, as well as properties in towns or cities which have not adopted the “emergency” rent regulations, which the new law has made permanent.

However, changes to the way in which landlords may rent their units are not the only significant part of the new law.  There are also provisions relating to eviction procedures in New York, which will have a major effect on both landlords and tenants.  As our firm represents both landlords and tenants, we are carefully studying the new law so that we can advise our clients accordingly.

While a full discussion of the every aspect of the new landlord-tenant rules is beyond the scope of this post, here are some of the “highlights” or “lowlights”, depending on your perspective and role as a landlord or tenant.  The first one relates to the notice period, which is the period after the tenant has been served with an eviction petition, but before he has to appear in Court.  Under the old law, the “window period” was 5-12 days, meaning at least five days, but not more than twelve days.  The new law has increased the period to 10-17 days, meaning that the hearing date must be at least ten days after the eviction petition is served, but no more than seventeen days.

fallThe prevalence of pumpkin flavored products  and the approach of colorful leaves signals that we have entered the Fall real estate market in New York.  This post will address the implications of the change of seasons and how that affects real estate transactions.  For the purposes of this discussion, single family homes are being analyzed because apartments and townhouses sell more easily during all times of the year.

Negotiation strategies  employed by your attorney  may change once the Spring market has passed.  In the area served by our attorneys , many single family homes are listed in the late Winter or early Spring, are in contract by June and close in August.  This typical schedule follows the needs of those purchasers who wish to have their children start school in early September in their new home.

A seller’s situation will depend upon whether her home was listed since the Spring and did not sell or is a new listing as of the Fall.  A new listing may receive more attention from buyers because inventory is typically lower in the Fall and older listings have already been evaluated by buyers.  Sellers who have listed their home for several months may already need to consider price reductions and other concessions in order to sell the property.  It should be noted that reducing the price will potentially allow the property to more readily appraise to the figure indicated in the contract.

epstein-300x154Most of the press concerning Jeffrey Epstein concerns the despicable crimes of which he is accused.  Of interest to this author  is the Will and other estate documents signed by Epstein merely two days before his death by suicide.  There are legitimate reasons why a person in prison or in the hospital may have an experienced attorney prepare documents such as a Will, power of attorney and health care proxy evidencing their last wishes with the anticipation of impending death.  If a person is in prison for a long time and even has children, his legal affairs need to be in order should he suffer death as a result of another inmate or from other causes.  However, Epstein seems to have fashioned a scheme to shield his assets and possibly defraud creditors of his estate, most notably his victims.

Apparently Epstein’s estate plan included a “pourover” Will that dictated that his assets would be left to a trust.  His executors then filed the Will in the U.S. Virgin Islands, rather than in New York State.  The possible explanations for this strategy will be discussed in this post.  We  may advise our estate clientele  to have such an estate structure, although not for such nefarious purposes.  As we have explained in prior posts, a trust can be a valuable tool in estate planning for certain persons.  In the event of a potential Will contest, trust provisions typically are more difficult to be challenged.  Further, in the case of famous people who may not want specifics of their assets and beneficiaries made public in a Surrogate’s Court filing , trusts afford the opportunity to keep such matters private because they are not filed with the Court.

Venue, the location of the probate Court filing, is an interesting issue in this case as well.  Typically, a Will should be filed in the state where the deceased maintained his primary residence.  However, Epstein had multiple residences around the world and seems to have selected the U.S. Virgin Islands as the location to probate his Will because he owned at least one island in the territory.  It is possible that the Court will decline venue and move the probate proceeding to New York, where Epstein seems to have spent the majority of his time.  In any case, ancillary probate proceedings will be required to determine the disposition of properties in each location.

lutheran-300x199Recently in the news is an Appellate Court decision regarding a Lutheran Church located in Staten Island, New York City’s “forgotten” borough.  This case involved a lawsuit brought by the Eltingville Lutheran Church against its parent organization, the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (the “Synod”).  This case applies many of the legal principles discussed in prior blog posts regarding religious institutions and the application of both the New York Religious Corporations Law, as well as the Establishment Clause contained in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The lawsuit arose when the Synod, which was the parent organization of the Church, issued a ruling that the Synod would permanently take over all management operations of the Church, including the ownership of all Church property and the real property on which the Church was located.  They also declared their intention to close the Church, and to seize its property and assets following its application of permanent Synod administration.

The Church objected to such a takeover, arguing that it was solvent, had Congregants who worshipped at the Church on a regular basis, and that there was no reason for the Synod to take over the Church, or to close its doors.

courthouse-300x159A recent blog post discussed sweeping changes to New York State’s regulations for rental units.  These changes were recently passed by the state legislature, and signed into law by Governor Cuomo.  While a full discussion of the new law is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that the law makes it more difficult for landlords to remove apartments from rent stabilization, as well as removing the right of a landlord to increase the regulated rent after a tenant vacates and a new tenant moves into the unit.

One effect of this change is to remove the incentive for a landlord to “buy out” a rent regulated tenant.  Prior blog posts have discussed transactions where a landlord would pay a tenant a significant sum of money to vacate a rent regulated apartment.  The reason for these transactions is that the landlord would then be permitted to significantly increase the rent for a new tenant, once the last tenant vacated.  Under the new regulations, the landlord would not be permitted the large “vacancy increase” that was allowed previously.  Therefore, landlords no longer would have an incentive to pay an existing tenant to move out, because the regulated rent would remain the same for a new tenant.

Landlords were not expecting the new regulations, as they were introduced very late in the legislative session.  The new regulations also make it more difficult to evict tenants who do not pay their rent.  As tenant-favorable laws will always be easier to pass in large cities, due to the simple fact that many tenants vote, and they are always more numerous than landlords, the question becomes whether these rent regulations can pass muster under the United States Constitution.

trap-300x225Prior blog posts have discussed the operational aspects of a holdover landlord-tenant eviction proceeding.  Holdover proceedings, unlike non-payment proceedings, occur when a tenant’s lease term has expired, or when a tenant does not have a lease, and either party decides to terminate the tenancy on thirty day’s notice, which is their legal right.  This is in contrast to a non-payment proceeding, which is when a tenant with a valid lease fails to make his rent payments.

For example, a tenant has a lease with a term that ends on December 31.  On January 1, the tenant remains in the premises.  If they make a rent payment for January, they are now considered a month-to-month tenant for as long as the landlord continues to accept the monthly rent under the same terms as the expired lease.  The lease is now considered to be extended on a month-to-month basis as long as the parties agree.

But what happens if the landlord does not want the tenant to remain after the expiration of the lease, even if the tenant continues to pay rent?  The landlord must terminate the month-to-month tenancy by serving a “Notice to Quit” on the tenant.  The Notice to Quit must state that the tenancy will be terminated on no less than thirty days notice.  New York law has held that the termination date should follow the end of the lease term date contained in the original lease.  If the original lease term occurred on the last day of the month, the termination date in the Notice to Quit should also be on the last day of the month.  This may result in the tenant receiving slightly more than thirty days notice, for example, if the Notice to Quit is served on February 15, and the lease term ended on December 31 of the prior year, the Notice will have a termination date of March 31, which is at least thirty days notice, but at the end of the month as legally required, mirroring the original lease term.