Massive Changes in NYS Landlord-Tenant Law

I recently attended a useful seminar organized by the Rockland County Bar Association in Suffern, NY on some far-reaching changes in the state landlord-tenant laws. These laws are intended to assist tenants who cannot pay their rent, but they also carry some heavy burdens for landlords and the attorneys who represent them.

On June 14, the New York State Legislature passed a set of new landlord-tenant laws, effective immediately, and these laws promise to completely transform the nature of the legal interactions between landlords and tenants, especially in cases of eviction.

Under the old laws, a landlord could begin an eviction proceeding against a tenant who was not paying rent by first serving a three-day notice and thereafter with a summary proceeding and a warrant and judgment signed by a judge. The non-paying tenant then was often told by the court to seek social services assistance to help find alternative housing.

The new laws change this system in many important ways, nearly all of them to benefit tenants. Now, a landlord must send a letter to the tenant in cases of nonpayment stating that he or she has not received rent. Then, if payment is still not made, the landlord can then begin an eviction proceeding, but the three-day notice requirement is now extended to fourteen days, and if payment by the tenant is made in that time, the landlord must by law accept it.

Once filed at court, the eviction proceeding needs a return date to be served at least ten and no more than seventeen days before the scheduled hearing.

These new laws also include several ways that tenants can seriously delay the proceeding. Now, the judge must grant the tenant’s first request for an adjournment (at least fourteen days), with second requests to be granted at the court’s discretion. Perhaps most importantly of all, the new laws also allow tenants to request a stay of warrant for up to a year if “the application is made in good faith and the applicant cannot secure suitable premises” in cases of “serious ill health, a child’s enrollment in local school and any other extenuating life circumstances affecting the ability of the applicant or the applicant’s family to relocate and maintain quality of life” (Amended RPAPL 753). Previously, this was a NYC-only rule, but now it is applied statewide.

Several other changes include new regulations limiting rent increases from one lease agreement to another to no more than 5%.

I can understand the intent of these changes as the new laws attempt to even the playing field between landlords and tenants. However, it does appear as if the pendulum has swung too far in favor of tenants’ rights. The new laws place much of the financial burden on the shoulders (and pockets) of landlords. If you are a landlord or thinking of becoming one in New York, be very careful and cautious as to whom you rent your property.

Real Estate: The Importance of Choosing a Good Mortgage Lender

When purchasing a home, people spend a great deal of time thinking about the details: Which colors would help to tame those 1970s lime green tiles in the bathroom? Which window treatments will make the counters in the new kitchen pop? Unfortunately, for many people, the name and reputation of their potential mortgage lender is rather low on the list of priorities. Very often, people avoid choosing a lender until the last minute, and often leave the decision up to a third party. I always counsel my clients that it is extremely important to do some research and select a reputable lender in consultation with their attorney for what will likely be the most important transaction of their lives. More and more, I also recommend that my clients select a local lender, as I have witnessed many bad experiences with out-of-state lenders over the past few years.

I have seen many clients who simply borrow from the lender advertising the lowest rate they find through an internet search or hire (and then have to pay) a mortgage broker to do the work. It has been my experience, however, that both of these practices can cause significant problems in real estate transactions. The issue with the some of the lending companies found online is that they may not be familiar with local legal requirements. Even worse, some of these companies advertising extremely low interest rates are more of the “fly-by-night” variety, with very minimal staffing and expertise to handle the questions, issues and problems that may arise in any purchase.

Many purchasers also confuse a mortgage broker with a mortgage lender. A mortgage broker may be a solution for you depending on your particular situation, but always remember that a broker will charge you a hefty fee at the closing for a task that you can do yourself with your lender with just a little bit of effort.

I tell my clients to make a simple table in Excel or Word or even on scrap paper containing the names of potential lenders, the mortgage points they give, their interest rates and the bank attorney fees they charge. Putting all of this information side by side will help you quickly get a handle on which bank can give you the best deal.

Lender name Mortgage points Interest Rate Bank Attorney fees
Bank A      
Bank B      

Thus, I submit to those who are thinking about purchasing real estate in the Hudson Valley: consult the local options first when it comes to lending and deal directly with a lender rather than going through a mortgage broker. Do your own research and save yourself some money in the process. Then you can get back to thinking about what to do with those lime green tiles!

New Year, New Office

As of December 2018, I have moved to a convenient new office located at 299 North Plank Road, Suite 106 in the Town of Newburgh, New York. Now I am located just minutes from Interstate 84 and the NYS Thruway.

I enjoyed my time in my previous office in Montgomery over the past several years, but in many ways, this relocation to Newburgh is a timely move back home. Of course, many moons ago (but not too many!), I was born in the City of Newburgh, and I have always served numerous clients in the greater Newburgh area in my legal practice.

The move closer to my roots has encouraged me to reflect a bit on age and change, as well. I find that as the years have gone by, I have subtly shifted my practice to addressing some of the legal concerns of people my own age. So, while my primary focus is still on real estate law, I have seen a sizeable increase in business on basic Wills, Power of attorney, Health Care Proxy and Living Will forms in addition to Estate and Guardianship litigation, all pertinent matters to us as we get older.

Fifth Annual Times-Herald Record Readers’ Choice Awards

Middletown_BOB_Winners

This year, I am proud to note that I made it to the finals of the Times-Herald Record’s Readers’ Choice Contest, and ultimately came in second in the voting; in other words, I found myself counted as the “Best of the Best” in the category of Real Estate Attorneys. As this marks my thirty-fifth year in practice here in the Hudson Valley, I am particularly pleased with this result, and I thank all who helped me to get here.

Of course, I would also like to salute and congratulate my colleague Rory Brady, Esq., of the Brady Law Firm, who came in first.

This was not my first time in the Readers’ Choice Awards. In 2014, I managed to make it through the first round to the final five, but did not make the second round cut to reach the final three. This time around though, I contacted all of my real estate clients from over the past fifteen years and asked them to vote for me if they were satisfied with my services. The effort played a major role in helping me to my second-place finish; as an added benefit, it was wonderful to catch up with so many people that I have had the opportunity to meet over the years.

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all my friends and colleagues in the real estate business, lenders, and above all, my clients, who voted for me this year. I hope to continue to serve you to the best of my abilities. Maybe next time, I will come in first!

Probing the Limits of Abuse and Endangerment

Last fall, I had the pleasure of attending a very interesting seminar organized by the NYS Defenders Association in Poughkeepsie, NY. In perhaps the most memorable case, Emma Ketteringham, Managing Attorney of the Family Defense Practice of the Bronx Defenders, outlined the complexities of child custody cases involving an expectant mother who used drugs, and I would like to bring the details of one such case to your attention.

Much of Ketteringham’s discussion centered on a 2013 New Jersey Supreme Court (N.J.S.C.) decision written by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. A.L. (A-28-11)(068542)). This particular case dealt with the extent of an expectant mother’s “abuse” or “neglect” of her child if she uses drugs during pregnancy but otherwise causes no actual harm when the baby is born.

In this case, the respondent mother tested positive for marijuana in her fifth month of pregnancy and upon admission to the hospital, tested positive for cocaine. Although the infant’s urine was negative for cocaine two hours after birth, his meconium later that day revealed the presence of cocaine metabolites. The New Jersey Division for Child Protection and Permanency (N.J.D.C.P.P.) determined that the allegation of neglect was substantiated and filed a complaint for abuse and neglect against the mother. Although documents were submitted into evidence, no testimony apparently took place. Both the lower court and the Appellate Division declared that abuse and neglect had occurred, creating a serious risk of harm to the child.

The N.J.S.C. however unanimously held that the petitioner agency’s case did not show actual harm or imminent danger or a substantial risk of harm to the child after birth, as state law requires. Additionally, the court found that the law (N.J.S.A. Title 9) applied to a child and not a fetus. Since there was no evidence of physical or mental abnormalities, the infant was not in any actual harm by the mother’s actions. Furthermore, the evidence presented in court as to the mother’s drug use did not establish a degree of future harm posed to the child.

This case raises some interesting questions. Perhaps if the petitioner had presented proof that the child was suffering from withdrawal or other abnormalities it could have shown actual harm to the newborn. In my opinion, a finding was warranted with an Order of Supervision including a requirement of a drug evaluation and follow through with any recommendations.

Moving Day

Moving is never easy. There are so many details to keep track of, such as all the tasks involved with closing down the old office and coordinating visits with the utilities and technicians at the new location. It can be stressful, especially since I’m still in business and meeting with clients all through the transition. But my new office is great! It is near my old office, but much larger, giving me space to grow the firm. It also has ample parking, and easy access to the main road. I think it will be much more convenient for my clients. I am eager to settle in and move forward here!

Upcoming Seminars

I have a busy calendar of seminars I plan to attend over the next several weeks. On Monday, October 24, I attended a workshop on foreclosure defense covering emerging issues, service regulations and issues surrounding the federal Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP). From my own experience, it seems that there is still a huge amount of confusion from the banks regarding the provisions of HAMP. Even though this seminar is up in Albany, I think it is worth it to hear the latest on these contentious issues, and perhaps learn something that I can use to help people in my practice.

I am also going to a workshop on Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings in early November with some of the biggest names in the field of creditor and debtor law in our area. It looks to be a good program going over recent developments in that field as well.

Real Estate Is Picking Up…

After a long slump, it looks like the local housing market is starting to show signs of life. I don’t want to say we are out of the woods at this point, of course, but it is a positive sign to see home sales start to pick up. Lenders certainly haven’t relaxed too much, as I see they are still picking things apart, asking for more and more documentation as part of the loan approval process. Long story short, make sure you have all your documents in perfect order if you are looking to buy a house today, because chances are the lender is going to be asking for everything.

On other real estate fronts, I have been working on mortgage modifications for people behind on their mortgage. I recently had a client who hired me to do a modification, and things seemed to be going smoothly with the lender. We supplied all requested paperwork and all our ducks seemed to be in a row.  The process was abruptly ended by the lender, however, when the lender issued my client a summons and complaint in foreclosure. I have now entered a counterclaim against the lender for bad faith, but it is apparent that things like this have been happening with frequency. My question is whether HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program), which was set up to avoid this type of situation, is really effective at all?

I also just wrapped up a short sale closing that took one year and three months to complete and featured a series of three or four buyers that didn’t work out. My clients and I persevered however. We got the sale without a foreclosure proceeding being initiated, even though my clients had not paid their mortgage for a long time.

Recent Conferences

I just attended a conference on elder law.  There was a great deal of material to absorb at this conference, and left me thinking about the complexity of elder law and the options open to individuals in the later stages of life. More and more people want to stay in their own home as long as possible rather than rushing into assisted living facilities or nursing homes, and there are more options available today than ever before to help realize that goal. I am still digesting the material covered at this conference, so I will update again soon.

A few weeks earlier, I also attended a conference on what civil court judges want you to know when you appear before them in their courtrooms. Much of the material focused on settlement conferences in the context of jury trials, and while this does not specifically relate to my own practice, I found the conference to be insightful nonetheless. What I took away from this was a real opportunity to get inside judges’ heads, to hear their perspective on their positions and responsibilities, to try and find out what makes the judges tick, and to understand where they are coming from. This kind of information is helpful to any lawyer.