Articles Posted in Real Estate Litigation

familyeviction-300x300Our firm receives many inquiries regarding property disputes among family members.  Often, several relatives may inherit property from a deceased relative, and cannot agree on how the property is to be maintained, whether the property should be sold, and who should live at the property.

Prior blog posts have discussed the possibility of a partition action when the owners cannot agree on the disposition of the property.  An additional question often raised, in several different contexts, is whether a family member, living at the premises, can be legally evicted.  The answer to this question involves delving into the situation in further detail, and is far from simple.

The first question to be asked is whether the person sought to be evicted is an owner of the property, whether through inheritance or other type of transfer.  If that family member is a legal owner of the property, the general answer is that person cannot be legally evicted.  In general, any owner of a property, even a partial owner, has a right to reside at the premises.  Let’s assume two brothers inherit a house from their parents.  Both brothers now own 50% of the house, and both have a legal right to reside at the house without paying rent to the other.  However, they are both legally obligated to equally share the costs of the upkeep of the house, such as routine maintenance and real estate taxes.  Neither would have the legal right to bring an eviction action against the other.  The situation could be resolved by one of the brothers buying the other’s interest, or selling the property to a third party, and splitting the net proceeds.

reverse-300x159A recent New York Times article concerns possible changes to the enforcement of reverse mortgages against surviving spouses.  To those unfamiliar with reverse mortgages, they are a type of mortgage loan which allows elderly borrowers (usually over 62 years old) with sufficient equity in their primary residences to borrow against that equity.  Generally, the sums borrowed do not have to be repaid until after the death of the borrower.  Therefore, the heirs of the borrower, after their death, have the option of repaying the sums due, or selling the property and then paying off the amount of the reverse mortgage, plus any interest accrued.

Other blog posts have discussed the possible pitfalls of reverse mortgages.  The New York Times article concerns a specific problem with many reverse mortgages, that of a surviving spouse.  The issue raised is this: what happens when the home is owned only in the name of the borrower, the borrower has a (usually) younger spouse, and then the borrower passes away, leaving an unpaid reverse mortgage?  Is the surviving spouse forced to sell the property in order to pay off the reverse mortgage, even though they may have lived there for many years with their spouse?

This situation arises in only a small amount of reverse mortgages.  Most couples own property jointly, and may take out a reverse mortgage in both of their names.  In this situation, where both borrowers qualify by meeting the age requirement, the mortgage is not due until the last of the borrowers passes away.  Therefore, the “surviving spouse” situation does not apply where both borrowers are record owners and borrowers.  However, there are situations, often involving a second marriage, where one borrower may qualify by age, and the other “half” is too young and will not qualify as a borrower.  Reverse mortgage companies may require that the property be put in the qualifying buyer’s name alone in order to approve and close a reverse mortgage.  This creates the situation discussed, where the older borrower then dies and the younger spouse, who may have inherited the property is faced with the reverse mortgage lender demanding payment in full while she does not have the assets to pay the mortgage without selling the property in question.

bankruptcy-300x200Prior blog posts have discussed the effect of filing for bankruptcy on properties which may be in foreclosure.  This post will explain what may happen to the property after a bankruptcy filing; namely, can the property still be sold to a third party, and under what circumstances.

Once a party to a foreclosure action files for federal bankruptcy protection, the Bankruptcy Court issues a stay on all pending legal proceedings.  A stay means that all pending legal proceedings must cease, and no new proceedings can be commenced.  This often occurs when the property in question is on the verge of being sold in a foreclosure auction.  Once a creditor has obtained a foreclosure judgment, and complies with all preliminary requirements (such as public advertising) for a public sale, in general, the only way to stop such a sale is for the debtor to file for bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy filing can even happen on the day before the scheduled auction sale.  Once the filing is made, notice is given to all creditors, who must cease all litigation and post-judgment proceedings, including a scheduled foreclosure auction.  If the creditor wants to proceed with the sale, it must file a motion with the Bankruptcy Court to lift the automatic stay of all proceedings.  This may take several months.  In addition, they are only permitted to proceed against the property in question, and not against the individual filing for bankruptcy.

18If you are like this author , someone close to you may be about to turn eighteen years of age.  This post will discuss the legal ramifications of turning eighteen.  Additional rights and privileges as well as legal responsibilities occur once a “child” becomes eighteen.  Such a person can now vote, run for office, legally support oneself, and be employed full-time.  An eighteen year old male will be penalized if he does not register for the military draft.  All eighteen year olds are treated as adults if they commit a crime.  Since we  practice particular areas of law, this author will address the implications of turning eighteen as they apply to those areas of law.  Also, rights and obligations vary by state, so this post will only address these matters as they relate to New York.

Eighteen year olds have the right to enter a contract and to apply for credit.  Therefore, our soon-to-be eighteen year old can apply for a mortgage and sign a contract to buy a house.  Contracts involving real estate, whether for sale or for a lease of more than one year must be in writing.

Once a person is eighteen, he can make a Will and other estate documents.  While we do not want to consider that someone so young may pass away, without a Will, his assets will be distributed according to New York’s intestacy law.  Also, an eighteen year old can inherit from someone who named him in a Will or in an Administration proceeding if he is of the proper degree of relation according to the New York statute.  Since many eighteen year olds may not be sophisticated enough to inherit substantial assets, those drafting Wills may decide to leave such assets to the child in trust until such age as they anticipate that the child will be mature enough to manage the assets.

210deathThe timing of death is never particularly welcome.  Some families are prepared, in that the deceased was elderly, maybe ill, and living in a nursing home.  Perhaps such a person also had the foresight to have their attorney prepare her Will and other estate documents.   Others may pass away at a relatively young age, in the prime of life, with ongoing financial and personal activities.  This post will examine the legal ramifications of passing away while a legal matter is pending.

Imagine that the deceased was a party to a contract concerning the sale of a house which has not yet closed.  The first step that the survivors would need to undertake is to review the contract and determine if it addresses the potential death of one of the parties before the closing.  In most cases, the seller is bound to the terms of the contract through her successors.  This means that the survivors cannot decide to nullify the contract and move into the house.  However, the seller is not available to conclude the transaction.  The attorney for the seller  would need to apply to the Surrogate’s Court  to apply for Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration , which appoints the appropriate fiduciary to act for the Estate in order to complete the closing.  Should circumstances warrant, it may be prudent to apply for Preliminary Letters Testamentary or Preliminary Letters of Administration, to permit the sale to conclude if it is jeopardized by a continued delay.

If the deceased was the potential purchaser of the house, the contract is likely to allow the purchaser’s survivors to cancel the contract.  This is a logical result, as the transaction is inherently dependent upon the purchaser maintaining a job in order to pay the mortgage and other carrying costs of the house.  Forcing this transaction to conclusion is a cruel result.  In most cases, the downpayment is refundable.  However, some contracts only provide that half or none of the downpayment would be refunded.  It is advisable to have your attorney negotiate a favorable disposition for the downpayment in this instance when representing a purchaser, even if he is a young person.

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Recently, President Donald Trump nominated federal judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States.  While the U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, New York’s Supreme Court is not even the top court in New York State.

In New York, the Supreme Court is the name given to the trial court for most cases filed within the state.  Any case with an amount in controversy exceeding $25,000.00 may be filed in the Supreme Court.  Cases involving lower amounts may be heard in local courts, such as Justice Courts or City Courts.  In addition, if a case involves possession of real property, it should be filed in landlord-tenant court, which is usually part of a local court such as District Court, Town and Village Courts, Justice Court, or City Court, depending on where the property in question is located.

Appeals from the Supreme Court are heard in the Appellate Division.  Should a litigant want to appeal to the highest court in the state, which is known as the New York Court of Appeals, located in the state capital, Albany.  Any case heard by the New York Court of Appeals which involves U.S. constitutional principles may eventually be appealed to the United States Supreme Court and be heard by Judge Gorsuch (if he is confirmed by the United States Senate), as well as the other eight current Supreme Court Justices.

stopOur firm is occasionally consulted by a party against whom a judgment of foreclosure has been entered.  Prior blog posts have discussed the foreclosure process in detail.  Among the last actions to be taken in a foreclosure case are the issuance of a judgment of foreclosure and the actual foreclosure sale.  This post will discuss the few options available to a foreclosure defendant at this point.

The issuance of a judgment in foreclosure by the Supreme Court of the County in which the property is located usually occurs at two points in the foreclosure litigation.  The first point would be if the defendant fails to answer the initial foreclosure Summons and Complaint, and the lending institution is granted a judgment by default.  If the default was inadvertent, and the defendant has a reasonable excuse for not answering, as well as a meritorious defense, it is possible for the defendant’s attorneys to file a motion to vacate the default judgment.

Another point in the litigation allowing for a foreclosure judgment would be when the plaintiff moves for summary judgment and the motion is granted by the Court.  Once a final judgment is submitted to the Court and signed by the Judge, the foreclosure process is in its final stages.  The plaintiff must advertise a public foreclosure sale in a local newspaper for four weeks prior to the sale, and then conduct the sale, usually at the Supreme Court Courthouse in the county in which the property is located.

As a result of the recent election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency, the area around Trump Tower in New York City has been subject to greatly increased security, including closures of streets, as well as guards and other restrictions on pedestrian access to the shopping areas around Trump Tower.  Of course, this additional security has had a detrimental effect on businesses located in and around Trump Tower.

What legal recourse do these businesses have regarding their leases?  This post will discuss the legal issues related to businesses and their leases in situations when access to their properties may be limited.

New York Courts have interpreted commercial leases to incorporate a warranty of habitability for the premises.  The warranty of habitability means that the landlord warrants that the property is fit to be used for its intended purpose.  For example, if the ceiling collapses at a store, causing the store to be closed, then the landlord is generally responsible for making the necessary repairs.  Should access to a portion of the store be limited by damage caused by a fire, or other such event, the tenant may be entitled to a partial rent abatement until full access is restored.

thanks2016The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday requires quite a bit of planning.  We are not speaking merely about creating the menu, shopping for the required ingredients and preparing the delicious food.  Rather, we wish to call attention to those who will be sharing the holiday with you and the legal issues that may arise.

Our readers should consider those people who will be at the dinner table with them.  These people are likely to be relatives, some of whom may be able to inherit your estate from you if you die without a Will.  Should this result be inconsistent with your wishes, we suggest that you contact a qualified attorney and arrange for your wishes to be documented in a Will and other associated estate documents.  Also, consider the legal issues that arise should you be sharing the holiday with a step-parent.  In addition, it may be prudent to think about those from whom you may inherit, such as your parents, to address whether they have made the proper estate plans to legally include you.

Observe the items that are on the Thanksgiving table and throughout the home.  Is the valuable sterling silver flatware being used in the celebration?  Personal property also needs to be addressed in estate documents and should be safeguarded, so as to prevent it from landing into the wrong hands.   Should a family member’s estate already be in the administration or probate process, you may need to be prepared to sort through family items and manage who should take such items with them.  Perhaps you may want to encourage your relatives to part with some of their valuable personal property now, so as to potentially save on gift and estate taxes at a later time.

property-dividedOur firm is often consulted in situations where a number of individuals have inherited real property.  For example, a parent passes away, and leaves a house to her three children. Many legal issues can arise from this type of situation, which will be discussed in this blog post.

The first question when a property owner dies is whether they have a written will.  If they do, then their Last Will and Testament should direct the disposition of the said property.  For example, the Will may state “I leave my property located at (address) to my three children (names of children).  Another possibility is that the property is not specifically addressed, but the testator (the person making the Will), simply leaves all of their property owned at time of death jointly to their children.

If the person dies without a Will (intestate), then the disposition of their property, including any real property, is made pursuant to New York Estate Law. For example, if a person passes away without a Will, and has no living spouse or parents, then their property would be inherited by her living children.