Articles Posted in Real Estate Litigation

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.

supreme-300x200
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.

trumpAs 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.

foreclosuresignPrior blog posts have discussed a “short sale” of a property in foreclosure.  A short sale is when the house is worth less than the mortgage owed to the lending institution, and the lender agrees to accept less than the full amount owed when the transaction takes place.  However,  a situation may also arise when a house is worth more than the loan balance, or when the amount owed is small enough that the seller may decide to pay the difference in order to sell the property to a third party.  This post will discuss legal issues related to these circumstances.

Many of our firm’s intend to sell their houses or other property in foreclosure.  They have listed their properties with a real estate agent, and are confident that the selling price will exceed the amounts owed on the property’s mortgage.  In that case, the first legal recommendation is to have an attorney file an answer to the foreclosure complaint in the appropriate court, including all legal defenses .  This will allow the homeowner additional time in which to find a buyer for the property while the foreclosure process plays out in Court.  Mandatory settlement conferences for foreclosure actions may also further delay a lender’s obtaining of a judgment of foreclosure and sale, allowing more time to market and sell the property.

Once a buyer is procured, it is important that the seller’s attorney immediately prepare a Contract of Sale.  Assuming all parties then execute the contract, the buyer’s downpayment should then be deposited in the attorney’s escrow account.  The next step would be for the seller’s attorney to contact the attorneys handling the foreclosure for the lending institution.  The attorney should provide copies of the fully signed contract, together with proof of the downpayment deposit.  At this point, the attorneys for the lender may agree (although legally, they are not obligated) to put a “hold” on any foreclosure litigation, pending the closing of the sale of the property.  The reason for this is that at the closing, the lender will be paid in full.  Therefore, it is usually not cost effective for a lender to continue to pursue a judgment of foreclosure in Court once there is a signed contract and downpayment.

deficiencyPrevious blog posts have discussed foreclosures in New York State.  Many of our clients own either residential or commercial property and may not be able to make their mortgage payments.  They may become subject to a foreclosure lawsuit brought in the appropriate Supreme Court, in which the lender seeks to foreclose on its mortgage and take over ownership of the property in question.

However, our firm is often asked what happens after the lender takes ownership of the property from the borrower.  This is usually done after a public foreclosure sale of the property before a court-appointed Referee.  The Referee will then prepare a Referee’s Deed, in which ownership of the property is transferred from the borrower to the entity which was the successful high bidder at the foreclosure sale.  The Referee’s Deed is then recorded with the County Clerk’s Office in the county in which the property is located.

Does the foreclosure action end at that point?  Generally the answer is yes, but not always.  The lender, which can be either an institution such as a bank or credit union, or an individual, may seek a deficiency judgment against the borrower after the foreclosure sale is finished. Whether this happens is dependent on the successful bidder at the foreclosure sale.  Before the public auction, the lender will make public the amount which the borrower owes on the property.  This amount will include all principal and interest on the loan being foreclosed, the costs of the foreclosure, including attorney’s and referee’s fees and court costs, as well as any other expenses that the lender incurred in foreclosing the property.  Let’s assume that this amount is $500,000.00.  Any third-party bidder (anyone who is not the lender) for the property must bid at least this amount for the property.  In the example given, the bidding would have to start at $500,000.00.  Assuming someone believes the property is worth at least this amount, the highest bid which exceeds $500,000.00 would pay this amount to the Referee and become the owner of the property.  The first $500,000.00 of the successful bid would be paid to the lender, with any remaining sums going to any creditors of the borrower who have appeared in the foreclosure action, and any surplus after that paid to the borrower.  In such a case, there would be no deficiency judgment.