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Legal issues to double check before improving your home

Building or improving a home is a big undertaking, depending on the size and nature of the project, and it is important for folks to ensure the job is done properly and to have a good understanding of how to protect themselves from liability. There are a variety of angles from which to consider the issue, but we’ll focus here on several.

First of all, it is important to pay attention to establishing a solid contract. Among other things, the contract should provide language regarding the materials to be used in the project, precisely listing the type to be used. This is important so that there are no surprises at the end of the project and so that one has recourse if the contractor tires to cut corners on materials. The contract should also lay out how one goes about modifying the contract so that any changes along the way can be made formal.

Zombie homes present big problem in New York

Readers may have heard before the term zombie homes. The term refers to properties which are abandoned by the owner due to a pending foreclosure but not yet taken over by a bank or lender. These homes are not only a safety hazard; they also impact local housing markets for the worse by shrinking the tax base and lowering property values.

Right now, there are roughly 15,000 homes in the state of New York considered to be zombie homes, but the problem affects communities nationwide. According to one estimate, roughly one in five housing with a pending foreclosure is vacant. States which are particularly affected are those which have a judicial foreclosure system—meaning the foreclosure is done by the supervision of a judge rather than administratively. New York is one of those states. The difference is especially evident in the amount of time it takes to process a foreclosure. Whereas the national average is 400 days, the average in New York is 800 days. 

Advice for landlords at the end, or beginning, of seasonal renting

In New York and in many other real estate markets nationwide, seasonal rentals are coming to an end and landlords are wrapping things up with seasonal tenants. A recent article in the Huffington Post focused on some of the challenges landlords can face when a lease agreement terminates, and we’d like to highlight some of these issues here.

The first issue we’ll discuss is lease renewal, which is not uncommon among seasonal renters. Ideally, for landlords, seasonal renters renew their contract every year. In such cases, landlords can make the process easier by laying out in the current agreement the manner in which renewal should take place. Leases which address renew specify how notice to renew is given, the way in which rental fees will change in future seasons, and other important matters. Including these provisions makes it easier for tenants and landlords to work out a renewal option. 

Easements in real estate transactions

In real estate law, the term easement refers to a contract by which a property owner allows a non-property owner to use and enjoy their property in some way. Easements can be categorized in various ways, but are generally broken down into four types: easements giving right of way; easements of support; easements of light and air, and easements pertaining to official waterways.

One type of easement that owners of farmland are able to take advantage of is conservation easements. These easements are used as a way to protect a various natural resources and to protect water quality, wildlife, wetlands and lands situated next to wetlands, as well as historic sites. In New York, the state acquires these easements mostly to protect property that buffers existing state lands, to maintain working forests and to set aside land for public recreation. 

Condo board upset over tenant’s bird nesting box

Evictions can happen for a number of reasons, ranging from persistence in failing to pay rent and illegally subletting an apartment to acts of violence against the landlord or other tenants. Eviction can also come in unexpected forms, or so it seems. Recently, the board of a condominium in the Upper West Side has decided to evict a family of peregrine falcons making their home in a nesting box built by a tenant. Part of what makes the situation so unique is that peregrine falcons have become rare since the 1960s, with only about 20 nesting pairs in the entire city.

The manager of the building has said that the nesting box has to go, and the board president has said that the nesting box is illegal because it violates landmarks law and prevents exterior renovations. At this point, the Landmarks Preservation Commission said the city is going to review the nesting box and determine whether a work permit is necessary. 

Coastal town struggle with issue of hurricane relief, privacy, possibly eminent domain

Hurricane Sandy did a number in a number of coastal towns and required a large federal response in terms of emergency aid. A number of coastal towns in New York and New Jersey are currently facing somewhat of a dilemma in connection with the storm. One such town, Asharoken, New York, currently has millions of dollars available in federal aid to build a protective sand dune, but the money is contingent on property owners signing agreements to allow permanent public access to their property, including their private beeches.

Many homeowners in both Asharoken and other coastal towns are understandably reluctant to open up to public access, even given the potential damage caused by future hurricanes. Because officials in both New York and New Jersey have expressed strong support for the project, it is possible that eminent domain could become an issue. 

Residential real estate construction still depressed in New York City

As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal points out, residential real estate construction has been slow to pick back up after the recession, and poses the risk of affecting the rest of the city economy. One way growth is measured is to look at the new number of permits. In New York, the number was 17,995 in 2013. Compare that to the nearly 34,000 units issued permits in 2008.

The reasons, according to analysts, include numerous factors which amount to a challenging environment in which to start new projects. Certainly, the market crash of 2008 has had a large impact as well, and it isn't clear whether the market will ever return to where it was at during the boom between 2003 and 2008. In any case, some improvement is hoped for and expected. 

Tenants can use subsidies as payment for rent

When it comes to housing, state and federal law attempt to ensure that those with little or no wealth still have access to housing. Unfortunately, a major hurdle for those with little to no wealth is their inability to make monthly payments to keep their landlord happy. One of the protections in place in New York City is that landlords cannot discriminate against potential tenants on the basis of the sources of their income. This includes things like lawful government assistance.

Earlier this month, two landlords and three real estate brokerage firms came to an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over an alleged violation of this law. Brokers at the firms had reportedly told potential tenants that the landlords would not accept government subsidies as valid payment of their rent. 

NY landlord subpoenaed over alleged abused of tenants

Landlords and tenants, we like to point out on this blog, can run into problems from time to time. The types of problems vary from failure to pay rent, failure of the landlord to make timely repairs, noise violations, lack of privacy and numerous other issues. In many cases with real issues to settle, there is some issue related to breach of contract.

Another type of issue that can arise pertains to leases of rent-regulated apartments. This is becoming more and more common in New York City as more landlords are attempting to take advantage of a market which increasingly favors them. For instance, one well-known landlord in Chinatown is currently under investigation by the Tenant Protection Unit of the Division of Housing because of complaints that the landlord is trying to force Asian-American tenants out of their apartments. 

Owner or famous NYC bar stops eviction proceedings, at least temporarily

A temporary restraining order was issued this week, putting a halt on eviction proceedings against The Subway Inn, a famous bar located in the Upper East Side which has been open for 77 years. The issue in the case is that the developer has apparently declined to offer the bar a new lease. The restraining order came after the family that currently runs the bar asked Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for help. Sources didn’t mention whether there will be an attempt to designate the building as a historic landmark or not.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission, as many readers know, has the task of protecting buildings that have architectural, cultural or historical significance. To receive such recognition, the commission must grant landmark or historic district status. Once this status is granted, certain regulations apply to the building. 

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Gary J. Wachtel, Esq.
450 Seventh Avenue,
Suite 1905,
New York, NY 10123
Phone: 917-503-9616
Fax: 212-371-7722

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