As reported today in the New York Times, there are increasing numbers of foreclosure cases in New York State where lenders may be unable to seize homes. Why? Because the State’s statute of limitations on foreclosure cases may be exceeded.
If you have a foreclosure case that has been dragging on for nearly six years, there may be relief on the horizon.
Does this sound similar to your situation? If so, and if you require legal representation, call my office for more information.
copyr. 2015 Richard A. Klass, Esq. The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
Mel Brooks’ movie and musical The Producers may have been a fictional story of fraudsters selling more shares in the production of their Broadway show “Springtime for Hitler” than actually existed, but such fraudsters exist in real life, overselling available interests not only in Broadway productions, but in every type of investment, including real estate.
In this modern day The Producers story, a particular real estate broker (we’ll give him the name “Bob”) had a plan. The idea behind this particular investment was simple: purchase a house in Passaic, New Jersey; fix it up; and then resell it for a profit—the classic real estate “ flip. ” This broker solicited a number of investors. Each investor would purchase a membership interest in a limited liability company [LLC]. With the funds provided by the members, the LLC would buy the house. A contractor-partner would be hired to renovate the house. Each investor was promised a certain percentage of the net proceeds from the ultimate sale of the house. Unfortunately, the real estate market tanked, construction costs soared and the investment became a huge loss before construction was ever completed.
New Jersey state court action
One of the investors (we’ll call him “John”) brought a lawsuit in the Superior Court in New Jersey for breach of contract, misappropriation of funds, and fraud. In that case, the judge appointed a special fiscal agent (similar to a court-appointed receiver) to manage the operations of the house, list the house for sale, and take all steps necessary to sell the house and distribute the net proceeds to the LLC’s investors.
Real estate broker files for bankruptcy
Bob filed for personal bankruptcy in the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court to avoid his liability to the investors. John filed a lawsuit (known as an adversary proceeding) against Bob in the New Jersey bankruptcy case to have Bob’s liability in this house-investment-gone-wrong declared “nondischargeable.” (The adversary proceeding here was a mini-lawsuit inside of the bankruptcy case, intended to have the effect that Bob would remain liable to John for the collapse of the real estate deal.) In the adversary proceeding, John alleged that Bob brought too many investors into the deal without telling the other investors. A settlement was reached between John and Bob in the “adversary proceeding” and John negotiated with the bankruptcy trustee to purchase the house directly from the trustee to recoup some of his (John’s) losses.
Another investor (we’ll call her “Sally”) who lost money in the same Passaic real estate deal then sued John (now the owner of the Passaic real estate) in New York City’s Civil Court, claiming that John defrauded Sally by not including her in the buy-out of the house. This is when John sought help from Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer. The aim was to have Sally’s lawsuit, brought in New York, dismissed.
Lack of jurisdiction in the New York Civil Court
There is a basic concept involving any court system that a particular court maintains the authority (“jurisdiction”) to make decisions and orders over a particular controversy.
According to New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules [CPLR] Section 302, New York State courts may exercise jurisdiction over nonresidents under certain circumstances, when the defendant:
Transacts any business within the state or contracts anywhere to supply goods or services in the state; or
Commits a tortious act within the state, except as to a cause of action for defamation of character arising from the act; or
Commits a tortious act without the state causing injury to person or property within the state.
There is a separate rule as to when New York City’s Civil Court may exercise jurisdiction over cases because it is considered a court of “limited” jurisdiction (See Civil Court Act Section 202).
In asking the judge to dismiss the New York Civil Court case, Richard A. Klass argued that any action that could be brought by Sally must be brought in the State of New Jersey, and not in New York. The project-house was located in New Jersey; the LLC was a New Jersey entity; both the New Jersey Superior Court and New Jersey Bankruptcy Court had pending cases involving the house and the LLC; and all of the events transpired in New Jersey. It was urged that New York was the wrong forum for Sally to bring this dispute, citing to Epstein v. Sirivejkul, 48 NY2d 728 ; Irrigation and Industrial Development Corp. v. Indag S.A., 37 NY2d 522 .
The Civil Court judge agreed with the arguments of Richard A. Klass and determined that the New York Civil Court lacked jurisdiction over the case. The judge specifically found that the transaction in dispute occurred in New Jersey and the plaintiff presented no allegations that there was tortious conduct within New York State; also, the fact that there were existing proceedings in New Jersey courts confirmed the conclusion that New Jersey was the proper forum for any dispute. The court then dismissed the plaintiff’s case.
by Richard A. Klass, Esq.
copyr. 2013 Richard A. Klass, Esq. The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn Heights, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
Those famous words were said by the Wolf in the fairy tale Three Little Pigs. Sometimes, municipalities have to say those same words to homeowners whose buildings become so damaged that they have become “unsafe.”
The “unsafe structures” law
There is a common recognition that an unsafe or dangerous structure constitutes a threat to the public’s health, safety and welfare, and the sealing or removal of the structure is an exercise of a municipality’s police powers to protect the public. For this reason, municipalities enact building codes to ensure that owners keep and maintain their buildings.
In New York City, Administrative Code Section 26-236 provides that, immediately upon receipt of a report by an officer or building department employee that a structure is unsafe or dangerous, the Department of Buildings is to make a formal report, which triggers quick action. The next step is to notify the building owner within 24 hours of the duty to remedy the unsafe or dangerous condition. If no action by the owner is immediately taken, then the Buildings Department must order a survey of the unsafe structure, which survey (together with a report) acts as the basis of a law suit in the Supreme Court.
So important to the public is the remediation of an unsafe structure, that Administrative Code Section 26-239 states that the “determination of the issue in an unsafe structure proceeding shall have precedence over every other business” of the court. Once the trial has taken place (“without delay”), the court then issues a “precept” directed to the Superintendent of Buildings to repair or secure the unsafe structure.
Knock-down of the client’s building
The client bought a building in Brooklyn from a bank that had recently foreclosed on the property and took back the building (what is commonly referred to as an “REO” – real estate owned property in a bank’s inventory). At about the same time that the client bought the building, the City of New York determined that the building was an unsafe structure and notified the bank. The notice informed that a court proceeding would be held in the Supreme Court, Kings County on April 22nd to determine the building to be an “unsafe structure” pursuant to the New York City Administrative Code.
When the client bought the building, he had the intention of renovating it. The client hired an architect who drew up plans to utilize the skeleton of the building and its basic plumbing and heating systems. The plans filed with the Buildings Department provided for the rehabilitation and renovation of the building. The architect’s plans were allegedly approved by the Department. The architect then met with the Buildings Department’s Borough Commissioner on April 10th; assurance was allegedly made to the architect that a work permit based upon the approved plans would be issued, allowing the “rehab” of the building to start. Allegedly, the Buildings Department noted the approval of plans with the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Unfortunately, on April 15th, prior to the upcoming court date, the City demolished the building. To add insult to injury, the City placed a lien on the building for the demolition costs.
Claim and law suit
The building owner came to Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, for help. Now that the entire building was demolished, there was tremendous added expense to the rehab of the building, given that all new building systems would have to be installed and the shell was no longer there.
Notices of claim were filed with the City of New York and its agencies. Once the requisite period of time for the City to act on those notices passed, a law suit was filed against the City. The action listed several causes of action including negligence, trespass to property, interference with quiet enjoyment of property and violation of due process rights since the building was demolished before the court proceeding.
The City agreed to settle the law suit by payment for the loss of the building (based upon the difference in fair market values for the property pre-demolition and post-demolition) along with cancellation of the demolition lien.
In certain cases, the Referee in the foreclosure action conducted a sale of the subject real property generates surplus moneys after an auction sale, which are then deposited with the court. After filing of the Referee’s Oath and Report of Sale after foreclosure auction sale, a party can move for confirmation of the Report of Sale more than 3 months but not later than 4 months after the filing of the Report of Sale. RPAPL §1355. Further, upon confirmation of the Report of Sale, and on motion of any party prior to or within 3 months of confirmation of the Report and Sale claiming the surplus moneys which have arisen from the foreclosure auction sale, the Supreme Court shall determine the priorities in such surplus moneys and order distributions thereof. RPAPL §1361.
The Second Department has held that the failure to move to appoint a Referee in a Surplus Money Proceeding following foreclosure of a mortgage within the time prescribed by statute is a mere irregularity which, in the absence of prejudice of any substantial right of a party, may be disregarded. Associated Financial Services, Inc. v. Davis, 183 AD2d 686, 583 NYS2d 274 (2d Dept. 1992).
The potential issue of a defendant or claimant not having filed an Answer or Notice of Appearance in the foreclosure action is not relevant as to whether that party may pursue recovery of surplus moneys. It is well settled that a defendant who defaulted in answering the foreclosure action is not precluded from proving its lien in Surplus Money Proceeding. Riverhead Savings Bank v. Garone 183 AD2d 760, 583 NYS2d 483 (2d Dept. 1992), citing to The Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn v. Pine Drive Associates, Inc., 28 Misc.2d 648, 212 NYS2d 111 (Sup. Ct., Nassau Co. 1961). Further, a second mortgagee/lienor, as a party named in the foreclosure action, is not required to file a Notice of Claim to Surplus Moneys in order to preserve its right to satisfaction of its lien from surplus proceeds of a foreclosure sale. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Grant, 224 AD2d 656, 639 NYS2d 72 (2d Dept. 1996) (“As a party to the foreclosure action, the respondent, secondary mortgagee Marine Midland Bank, was not required to file a notice of claim to the surplus moneys in order to preserve its right to the satisfaction of its lien from the surplus proceeds of the foreclosure sale.”).
Where, under a mortgage foreclosure sale, a surplus is realized, and the premises are at the time of such sale subject to a second mortgage, the respective rights of the parties will be determined as of the date of the foreclosure sale. Elsworth v. Woolsey, 19 AD 385, 46 NYS 486 (1st Dept. 1897), affirmed, 154 NY 748, 49 NE 1096 (1897). New York courts have held that those respective rights in the surplus moneys, as enunciated by Elsworth, transfer from the “res” of the action, to wit: the land, to the surplus moneys. In Roosevelt Savings Bank v. Goldberg, 118 Misc.2d 220, 459 NYS2d 988 (Sup. Ct., Nassau Co. 1983), the court held:
“Surplus money realized upon a foreclosure sale is not a general asset of the owner of the equity of redemption, but stands in the place of the land for all purposes of distribution among persons having vested interests or liens upon the land. Surplus money takes the place of the equity of redemption, and only one who had a vested estate or interest in the land sold under foreclosure which was cut off by the foreclosure sale, is entitled to share in the surplus money, with priority in each creditor determined by the filing date of his lien or judgment.”
This Brooklyn Bar Association Foundation Law Committee program is a joint presentation with the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer’s Project, Inc., and the Brooklyn Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service.