COVID-19 Update: How we are serving and protecting our clients.

eviction-moratorium-2-600x270-1-300x135As readers of this blog may be aware, there is currently a moratorium on eviction cases in New York State.  This means that, with certain exceptions, new eviction cases cases cannot be filed with the appropriate Court, and cases which have already been commenced have been “stayed.”  Legally, a case which has been stayed cannot progress towards a resolution, such as a Judgment and Warrant of Eviction, while the stay remains in effect.  In addition, if a Court has already issued a Warrant of Eviction prior to the stay being in effect, the Marshal or Sheriff will generally not proceed with the actual removal of the tenant, unless certain exceptions apply.

Currently, there are two eviction stays in effect, one from New York State, and the other from the federal government.  These stays will be discussed further in this article.

The eviction stay in New York State is currently in effect until May 1, 2021.  However, there are several legal challenges to this stay.  The first involves the current scandal involving the Governor relating to the concealment of the exact figure of New York State nursing home deaths due to COVID-19.  As a result of this, and other controversies involving the Governor, there have been discussions of removing his emergency powers, which were granted to him due to the pandemic.  The executive orders staying New York State evictions were issued by Mr. Cuomo under these emergency powers.  If he his stripped of these powers, he will not have the necessary authority to extend the New York State moratorium when it expires on May 1.  As a result, evictions and eviction cases may resume at that time, unless the state legislature decides to pass emergency legislation extending the moratorium.

NoteWill-300x289Many of our readers were heartbroken when the prolific television interviewer Larry King recently passed away.  He was married many times.  At the time of his death, he had filed for divorce from his seventh wife, Shawn.  Shortly after he started the divorce case, he allegedly prepared a handwritten amendment to his Will.  Such amendment drastically changed the dispositions and executor appointment designation and most notably disqualified Shawn from inheritance.  Shawn has now filed to contest the purported will in California.  While this author cannot comment on the manner in which a California Court will determine this case, this post will discuss the possible results of such a matter in New York.

New York State has specific statutory requirements for the execution of wills.  For purposes of this discussion, an amendment to a will is usually referred to as a Codicil, which must be signed and witnessed in the same fashion as a will.  An experienced legal practitioner should supervise the execution of a Will so that it is deemed to be valid.  Under rare circumstances, New York recognizes handwritten wills.  New York law would disqualify the validity of Larry King’s handwritten will because King did not fit within the extremely narrow provisions required to make a handwritten will valid: he was not a member of the armed forces during a war or a mariner at sea at the time of his death.

Courts in the area served by our practice often hear cases concerning objections to wills.  Initially, the Court will evaluate issues concerning the due execution of the will according to the statutes discussed above and may disqualify the will because it was handwritten and did not fall within the exceptions listed.  Then, the Court may consider other matters such as undue influence, diminished mental capacity and testamentary capacity.  King’s estranged wife has raised all of these issues in her challenge.

realtor-300x199Now that the fall real estate market has ended, parties to real estate transactions are starting to prepare for the busy spring market.  Some sellers make the decision to forego the services of a professional real estate agent.  Other parties determine that using a real estate agent is essential to achieving the optimal high price and favorable terms sought.  This post will address the process involved in engaging a real estate agent.

This author  has found that over a period of decades, sellers prefer to work with an agent whose office is close to their home.  Such an agent may also live in the same neighborhood and would be very familiar with issues that are of concern to buyers.  Information on school registration, recreational facilities nearby and even medical providers will make a buyer feel at home and more comfortable selecting a particular house.  Agents in close proximity provide convenience in showings as often as needed and monitoring of property conditions.  As such, it is not unusual for a seller to ask neighbors for a referral.

The agent located will visit the home, provide suggestions for repairs and staging that may facilitate a quick sale and a recommended listing price.  Whether the agent owns her own brokerage or works for another brokerage, the seller will be presented with an agreement to sign and other disclosures such as lead paint and COVID disclosures, before photos of the home are taken and the property is listed on the Multiple Listing Service, allowing for exposure of the real estate listing to all buyers searching for a new home.  As an explanation, an agent may work for a brokerage with which he has an arrangement for shared compensation.

coupleOur firm receives numerous inquiries from couples who co-own property, although they have never married.  Many couples, whether they be man and woman or single sex couples, either delay getting married or do not get married at all, even if they have children together.  Although such couples may say that “it makes no difference” and that a marriage license is “just a piece of paper,” legally, it can make a great difference when an unmarried couple co-owns real estate.

If a legally married couple owns real estate together, any real estate they own jointly is generally considered marital property, and, if they decide to get divorced, the issue of the disposition of the property in question is resolved as part of an overall divorce settlement.  If the couple cannot agree whether to sell the property, then the divorce action may go to trial, with a Judge making the decision after hearing the facts in Court.

However, when an unmarried couple purchases real estate together, and decide to split up as a couple, it raises significant legal issues which may require a partition action to resolve. A partition action is brought when two or more people co-own real estate, and no longer wish to co-own the real estate together.  This can also apply to cooperative apartments, which are considered ownership of shares in a cooperative corporation, but which can also be the subject of a partition action.

foreclose-1Regular readers of this blog have been able to get information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected foreclosure actions in New York.  This post will serve as an update on current conditions in New York Courts.

At the beginning of the pandemic, New York Courts closed for all matters, including foreclosure cases.  In addition, executive orders from Governor Cuomo stayed all foreclosure cases from proceeding.  This meant that, at that time, no new foreclosure cases could be filed, and all foreclosure cases previously filed would not be allowed to proceed until allowed by New York State.

This obviously was a benefit to any party subject to a foreclosure action.  Even if the Court had, before the pandemic, granted a judgment of foreclosure and sale, the actual sale was not allowed to proceed.  In addition, both New York State and the federal government imposed further legal restrictions on all evictions.  This meant that even if the foreclosure sale had occurred prior to the “freezing” of all foreclosure cases, the new owner, whether it was the original lender or a successful bidder at a sale, had no legal means of evicting the former owner.

crown-300x224A recent story in the New York Post discusses a lawsuit brought by the City of New York against a prominent couple who are the owners and landlords of a brownstone located in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.  According to the allegations in the lawsuit, the couple sought to evict their tenants without any legal process.  In more detail, they are accused of, among other actions, using force and threatening to use force to induce occupants to vacate, removing occupants’ possessions from the Premises, and changing entrance door locks to the Premises without supplying replacement keys to the occupants.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties for violations of the New York City Unlawful Eviction Law, as well as a permanent injunction prohibiting the owners from engaging in any further attempt at unlawful eviction of tenants and occupants, or any further tenant harassment.

Our firm has consulted with many landlords over the years regarding potential evictions of tenants.  One course of action that we would never advise a landlord to do is to attempt to evict the tenant themselves, without the benefit of the legal process.  While there are obviously many problem tenants, all tenants in New York State are protected by laws relating to evictions.  Any eviction must start by serving the tenants with the initial notices (known as predicate notices) which advise the tenants that an eviction action may be brought in the future, either because the lease has expired, or because the tenant has failed to pay rent due.

montauk-300x182A recent news story in the New York Post raises important issues regarding the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on evictions in New York State.  According to the report, an “Intragram influencer” named Marisa Hochberg owes at least $14,000.00 in past due rent on her summer rental in Montauk, and has refused to vacate the premises, even though her lease expired several months ago.

In ordinary times, an eviction action would be brought by the attorneys for the homeowners in the local landlord-tenant Court, seeking to evict the tenant.  In the Hochberg case, the tenant could be the subject of either a holdover action, or a non-payment action.  First, as her lease expired by its terms, this makes her a month-to-month tenant subject to termination on proper notice (holdover action).  Second, as she has failed to pay rent due, this also allows the possibility of a non-payment proceeding being brought against her.

However, as our readers are aware, these are not ordinary times.  Not all landlord-tenant courts, which are local in nature, are scheduling and hearing cases on a regular basis, due to COVID concerns.  Before attempting to file a case in a local landlord-tenant Court, experienced counsel should contact the Court directly to ensure that they are accepting and scheduling new cases.

deliSuccessful contemporary art dealer Andre Zarre passed away and left his massive multi-million dollar estate solely to a deli worker, who was also nominated as Executor to the estate.  Does this situation strike our readers  as a legal result that can be contested?  The answer is yes, for the reasons discussed in this post.

Although Zarre was a successful art dealer, his entrepreneurial spirit led to his eventual ownership of a Queens deli.  The deli worker Jose Yeje was either in charge of the deli or a co-owner, depending upon the version of events that one wants to believe.  Zarre’s health deteriorated to the extent that he eventually became legally blind, had significant mobility issues, and advanced heart disease.  At the same time, the relationship between Zarre and Yeje progressed to the point that Yeje became Zarre’s trusted caretaker.  Then, Zarre signed the subject Will, shortly before his death.

When an estate is administered , the executor of a will needs to obtain waivers from those who could inherit under New York’s intestacy statute .  Otherwise, such persons maintain their legal right to challenge the will being sought to be admitted to probate.  Yeje’s legal counsel approached Zarre’s cousin to obtain such a waiver.  The cousin was shocked because Zarre had previously promised to leave his estate to the cousin and potentially other relatives.  It will remain to be seen how the Surrogate’s Court  will evaluate the validity of this promise.  When a waiver is not delivered, the proponent of the will then needs to serve the person requested to waive with a citation to attend a Court appearance  for the purpose of raising legal issues why the will should not be admitted to probate.

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