Caveat Emptor: “All Houses Wherein Men Have Lived and Died Are Haunted Houses.”

person in exercise clothing looking through magnifying glass at damage in home. Illustrating article by Richard A. Klass about Caveat Emptor

The buyer of a Brooklyn building sued the seller for fraud and breach of contract after the closing of title. The buyer made several claims against the seller, including that the roof was leaking, it wasn’t new, and the construction and renovations performed on the building were shoddy and done only to quickly “flip” the property. The buyer also claimed that the tenant’s signed estoppel certificate was false. The buyer’s attorney claimed that no ordinary amount of due diligence would have revealed that the roof was leaking; only destructive testing done prior to closing would have shown water intrusion or mold. The seller’s position was that any alleged defects in connection with the sale of the building could have been raised before the closing of title. Once the closing took place, any alleged defects were waived; the representations in the contract of sale merged with the transfer of title.

Disclaimers in the Contract of Sale

In the contract of sale between the seller and buyer, there were numerous clauses that contained specific disclaimers.[1] Among these disclaimers was the following one (which is fairly typical in real estate contracts):

The Purchaser acknowledges that they have physically inspected the Premises prior to signing this Contract and are aware of the physical condition of the Premises and agree to take the Premises in “AS IS CONDITION” in its present physical condition. Purchaser acknowledges that the Seller has made no representation or warranties and concerning the physical condition of the Premises other than those that are specifically set forth herein.

Doctrine of Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware!

The seller retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, to defend the lawsuit brought by the buyer. A motion to dismiss the case was filed based on several legal arguments, first and foremost being the defense of caveat emptor (meaning that the buyer was responsible for checking the quality of his purchase).

New York adheres to the caveat emptor doctrine and imposes no duty on the seller to disclose any information concerning the premises when the parties deal at arm’s length, unless there is some conduct on the part of the seller which constitutes active concealment. Platzman v. Morris, 283 AD2d 561 [2 Dept. 2001]. As held by the Second Department in London v. Courduff, 141 AD2d 803 [2d Dept. 1988], “The buyer has the duty to satisfy himself as to the quality of his bargain pursuant to the doctrine of caveat emptor, which in New York State still applies to real estate transactions.”

As held in Simone v Homecheck Real Estate Services, Inc., 42 AD3d 518, 521 [2d Dept 2007], “Where the contract specifically disclaims the existence of warranties or representations, a cause of action alleging breach of contract based on such a warranty or representation cannot be maintained (see Bedowitz v Farrell Dev. Co., 289 AD2d 432 [2001]). Here, the contract of sale specifically provided that the premises had been inspected by the buyer and was being sold ‘as is’ without warranty as to condition, express or implied. Furthermore, a specific merger clause is contained in the rider to the contract and precludes the buyer from claiming that he relied on any of the sellers’ alleged misrepresentations (see London v Courduff, supra). In addition, because title to the property had closed and the deed was delivered, the doctrine of merger extinguished any claim the buyer may have had regarding the contract of sale (see Ka Foon Lo v Curis, 29 AD3d 525 [2006]). Hence, the cause of action to recover for breach of contract cannot be maintained and should have been dismissed pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7).”

Where the contract of sale, as in this case, contains a provision that the plaintiff is fully aware of the condition of the premises based upon his own inspection and is not relying upon any representations of the seller, any subsequent action for fraud is barred. Daly v. Kochanowicz, 67 AD3d 78 [2 Dept. 2009]; Platzman v. Morris, 283 AD2d 561, 563 [2 Dept. 2001] (“Since the contract contained a provision that the plaintiffs were fully aware of the condition of the premises based upon their own inspection and investigation, and not based upon any information or representations, written or oral, made by the sellers, the plaintiffs cannot claim fraud.”).

No ‘latent defect’ exception to the merger doctrine

The buyer argued in opposition to the motion that the merger doctrine did not apply to latent defects (which may only be discovered after occupancy of the premises). He incorrectly cited Fehling v Wicks, 179 Misc 2d 1041 [App Term 1999] as being a decision from the Second Department. It is actually a decision of the Appellate Term, Second Department. More importantly, the Fehling v Wicks decision has been rejected by the Appellate Divisions.

In Arnold v Wilkins, 61 AD3d 1236, 1237 [3d Dept 2009], the court held: “Plaintiffs alternatively contend that the merger doctrine does not apply here because the faulty sewage system was a ‘latent defect.’ In support, they rely on Fehling v. Wicks, 179 Misc.2d 1041, 687 N.Y.S.2d 868 [1999] for the proposition that ‘where the purchaser discovers latent defects which are discoverable only after the purchaser occupies the premises,’ the merger doctrine is inapplicable (id. at 1042, 687 N.Y.S.2d 868). Importantly, however, the purported ‘latent defect’ exception to the merger doctrine has not been adopted by the Appellate Divisions or the Court of Appeals in these circumstances.”

In TIAA Glob. Investments, LLC v One Astoria Sq. LLC, 127 AD3d 75, 85 [1st Dept 2015], the court held (emphasis added):

The merger doctrine in a real estate transaction provides that once the deed is delivered, its terms are all that survive and the purchaser is barred from prosecuting any claims arising out of the contract (Ka Foon Lo v. Curis, 29 A.D.3d 525, 526, 815 N.Y.S.2d 131 [2d Dept.2006] ). The only exception to this rule is where the parties clearly intended that the particular provision of the contract supporting the claim would survive the delivery of the deed (id.). Further, an “as is” clause in a contract to sell real property will ordinarily bar a claim for breach of contract (see Board of Mgrs. of the Chelsea 19 Condominium v. Chelsea 19 Assoc., 73 A.D.3d 581, 581, 905 N.Y.S.2d 8 [1st Dept.2010] ). Plaintiff argues that the merger doctrine does not apply here because of the latent nature of the defects at issue. It further contends that its allegations of deceptive behavior on Seller’s part to mask the true condition of the building render the “as is” clause inoperable.

Although plaintiff cites trial court opinions identifying a latency exception to the merger doctrine, the concept has not been adopted by any of the Appellate Divisions or by the Court of Appeals (see Arnold v. Wilkins, 61 A.D.3d 1236, 1237, 876 N.Y.S.2d 780 [3d Dept.2009]), and we are not adopting it here.

It was urged that the seller was bound to the decisions of the Appellate Divisions, as the Second Department has not opined on the issue yet. See, Summit Const. Services Group, Inc. v Act Abatement, LLC, 34 Misc 3d 823, 831 [Sup Ct 2011] (“The general rule is that trial courts must follow applicable decisions of the Appellate Division in their Department. If there is no decision from the Appellate Division in the Department in which the trial court is located, the trial court must follow the decision of another Department. This is because the Appellate Division is a single statewide court divided into departments for administrative convenience.”)

Seller did not engage in active concealment

The buyer’s attorney also argued that there was active concealment of defects by the seller. The complaint failed to make any allegation that the buyer was somehow thwarted by the seller from conducting any inspections or due diligence which could have discovered the purported defects. It was necessary for the buyer to allege material facts as essential allegations that the seller thwarted any efforts on his part to perform his due diligence. See, Jablonski v Rapalje, 14 AD3d 484, 485 [2d Dept 2005] (“To maintain a cause of action to recover damages for active concealment, the plaintiff must show, in effect, that the seller or the seller’s agents thwarted the plaintiff’s efforts to fulfill his responsibilities fixed by the doctrine of caveat emptor.”)

In Laxer v Edelman, 75 AD3d 584, 586 [2d Dept 2010], the Second Department held:

New York adheres to the doctrine of caveat emptor and imposes no liability on a seller [or the seller’s agent] for failing to disclose information regarding the premises when the parties deal at arm’s length, unless there is some conduct on the part of the seller[‘s agent] which constitutes active concealment” of a defective condition (Simone v Homecheck Real Estate Servs., Inc., 42 AD3d 518, 520 [2007]; see Daly v Kochanowicz, 67 AD3d 78, 87 [2009]; cf. Real Property Law §§ 462, 465). Moreover, even proof of active concealment will not suffice when the plaintiff should have known of the defect (see Richardson v United Funding, Inc., 16 AD3d 570, 571 [2005]). A plaintiff seeking to recover damages for active concealment must show that the defendant “thwarted” the plaintiff’s efforts to fulfill his or her responsibilities imposed by the doctrine of caveat emptor (Kerusa Co. LLC v W10Z/515 Real Estate Ltd. Partnership, 12 NY3d 236, 245 [2009] [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Rozen v 7 Calf Cr., LLC, 52 AD3d 590, 593 [2008]).

Based on the arguments presented, the judge granted the motion to dismiss. The judge held that the “defendants have established that the merger doctrine bars any claims arising out of the contract, requiring dismissal of the plaintiff’s cause of action for breach of contract. In a real estate transaction, the merger doctrine provides that, once title to the property closed and the deed was delivered, any claims that the plaintiff might have had arising from the contract of sale were extinguished.”


End Notes

[1] Section 11(c) stated: Except as otherwise expressly set forth in this contract, none of Seller’s covenants, representations, warranties or other obligations contained in this contract shall survive Closing.

Section 12 stated: Condition of Property. Purchaser acknowledges and represents that Purchaser is fully aware of the physical condition and state of repair of the Premises and of all property included in this sale, based on Purchaser’s own inspection and investigation and not upon any information, data, statements or representations, written or oral, as to the physical condition, state of repair, use, cost or operation or any other matter related to the Premises or the other property included in the sale, given or made by Seller or its representatives, and shall accept the same “as is” except as set forth herein in their present condition and state of repair; subject to reasonable use, wear, tear and natural deterioration between the date hereof and the date of Closing (except as otherwise set forth in paragraph 16(f), without any reduction in the purchase price or claim of any kind for any change in such condition by reason thereof subsequent to the date of this contract. Purchaser and its authorized representatives shall have the right, at reasonable times and upon reasonable notice (by telephone or otherwise) to Seller, to inspect the Premises before Closing.

Section 28 stated: Miscellaneous. (a) All prior understandings, agreements, representations and warranties, oral or written, between Seller and Purchaser are merged in this contract; it completely expresses their full agreement and has been entered into after full investigation, neither party relying upon any statement made by anyone else that is not set forth in this contract.

Rider at Section 12 stated: Tenancies. The purchaser herein agrees to take title to the Premises, SUBJECT TO the following tenancies: NONE. PURCHASER SHALL RECEIVE A CREDIT OF $5,000 FROM SELLER FOR THE LOWER RENT AMOUNTS & SECURITY DEPOSITS.

Rider at Section 15 stated: No representations by Seller. Seller makes no warranties or representations concerning the physical condition, work repairs, renovations, or improvements, if any, income, expenses for operation, taxes or fitness of the Premises except as specifically set forth herein. The Purchaser acknowledges that they have physically inspected the Premises prior to signing this Contract and are aware of the physical condition of the Premises and agree to take the Premises in “AS IS CONDITION” in its present physical condition. Purchaser acknowledges that the Seller has made no representation or warranties and concerning the physical condition of the Premises other than those that are specifically set forth herein. The Seller shall not be bound by or liable for any representations, oral or written, pertaining to the Premises, furnished or made by any real estate broker or salesperson, agent or employee, servant or other, unless same is specifically set forth herein. Notwithstanding, none of the representations, warranties, covenants or other obligations of SELLERS hereunder shall survive the CLOSING, except as expressly provided herein. Acceptance of the deed by PURCHASERS shall be deemed full and complete performance and discharge of every agreement and obligation of SELLERS hereunder, except those, if any, which expressly are stated herein to survive the CLOSING.

Rider at Section 22 stated: Delivery and Acceptance of the Deed. The delivery and acceptance of the deed at closing by the Purchaser shall constitute full compliance by the Seller of all of the terms and conditions of this Contract, and none of the terms and conditions of this Contract shall survive the delivery of the deed unless specifically stated otherwise.

Rider at Section 32 stated: Entire Understanding. This agreement constitutes the entire Contract between the parties. It may not be modified orally or in any other manner except by an agreement in writing signed by the parties hereto.

Rider at Section 38 stated: Property Condition Disclosure Credit. Seller will not provide to the Purchaser the Property Condition Disclosure Statement under Article 14 of the New York Real Property Law. The Purchaser agrees to the $500.00 monetary credit as set forth in section 465(a) of the Property Condition Disclosure Act. By the acceptance of a $500.00 credit, the purchaser waives any failure or misrepresentation whether of not knowing or willful on the part of the Seller. The purchase price reflected herein is net of the $500.00 given by Seller to Purchaser as a credit in lieu of Purchasers receiving a property condition disclosure statement from Sellers.

Richard A. Klass, Esq.
Your Court Street Lawyer

#caveatemptor, #buyerbeware, #realestatelaw

Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT●ST or RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

© 2021 Richard A. Klass

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Ejectment of Boxing Gym: Throw in the Towel!

Two men in business suits in boxing ring, one unconscious on the mat, one standing. Illustrating article by Richard Klass about ejectment of a boxing gym.

COVID-19 has had a deleterious effect on New York’s commercial landlords. Due to the pandemic, many tenants have been unable to meet their lease obligations; in turn, this has resulted in the domino effect of landlords being unable to meet their mortgage obligations. Landlords have been hampered from evicting non-paying commercial tenants because of the Governor’s executive orders placing a moratorium on commercial evictions for over a year.

Caught up in the current quagmire, landlords whose tenants have defaulted under their commercial leases for reasons other than nonpayment of rent have had a difficult time removing them from the premises.

Boxing gym with troubling lease violations

According to the landlord, a fitness center specializing in boxing, martial arts and MMA-inspired workout routines was violating the terms of its lease prior to the pandemic. The allegations against the fitness center included:

  • Lack of special fitness center permit: NYC Zoning Regulations §12-10 define a “physical culture or health establishment” as “any establishment or facility, including commercial and non-commercial clubs, which is equipped and arranged to provide instruction, services, or activities which improve or affect a person’s physical condition by physical exercise or by massage.” The NYC Department of Buildings requires that businesses operating as a physical culture establishment or facility have a special permit in order to operate. The tenant never obtained the special permit and was alleged to have abandoned the application process;
  • Failure to obtain a health club license: The tenant agreed in the lease to “file any and all applications for permits and licenses required by any local, federal, state or city municipal agency for the conduct of tenant’s business and the operation and maintenance of the demised premises.” The lack of the license was alleged to be a breach of the lease;
  • Dissolution of corporation: The tenant was operating the fitness center despite the corporation having been dissolved by the New York Secretary of State years ago;
  • Lack of insurance: The lease required the tenant to maintain general liability insurance to cover any claims for bodily injury or death or property damage occurring on the premises of at lease $2 million per occurrence. The tenant did not provide the landlord with proof of insurance;
  • Non-payment of rent: The landlord claimed substantial rent arrears were due from the tenant for many months’ worth of rent and taxes owed.

Immediate Request for Order of Ejectment

The landlord retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, to bring an action against the fitness center to regain possession of the premises. An action for “ejectment” of the tenant from the premises was commenced and an Order to Show Cause was immediately filed, asking the judge to issue an Order of Ejectment.

Preliminary injunction request

Under CPLR 6301, a court is authorized to grant a preliminary injunction where it appears that the defendant threatens or is about to do an act in violation of the plaintiff’s rights regarding the subject of the action, which would tend to render any judgment ineffectual. The court may also grant a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) where it appears that there is the potential for immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage. The plaintiff must show that: (1) there is a likelihood of the plaintiff’s success on the merits; (2) irreparable harm will occur without an injunction; and (3) a balancing of the equities tips in the plaintiff’s favor. See, Hoeffner v. John F. Frank Inc., 302 AD2d 428 [2 Dept. 2003].

  • Likelihood of success on the merits: The landlord alleged that the tenant remained in possession of the premises, continuing to operate its fitness center, despite the lease having been terminated; the tenant owing substantial rent arrears; the corporation having been dissolved; there being no license or permit to operate as a health club; and the lack of insurance coverage. The landlord made a prima facie showing of its right to relief. See, Terrell v. Terrell, 279 AD2d 301 [1 Dept. 2001].
  • Irreparable harm or injury: The tenant allegedly continued operating as a fitness center to the detriment of not only the landlord but also its gym patrons and the general public. The landlord urged that the threats to the public included the lack of liability insurance, operating an unlicensed facility with lack of proper permits, and the potential exposure of bodily injury or damage claims. These were alleged to be of actual, imminent harms to be suffered and were not remote possibilities or speculation. See, Khan v. State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn, 271 AD2d 656 [1 Dept. 2000].
  • Balancing of the equities: The landlord asked the judge to consider the harms each side would suffer and that they would tilt in favor of ejecting the tenant. In balancing the equities of the situation, “it must be shown that the irreparable injury to be sustained … is more burdensome [to the plaintiff] than the harm caused to the defendant through imposition of the injunction.” McLaughlin, Piven, Vogel, Inc. v. W.J. Nolan & Co. Inc., 114 AD2d 165 [2 Dept. 1986].

The judge considered the landlord’s request and granted the Order of Ejectment. The New York City Sheriff immediately issued process on the fitness center and, acting on the Order of Ejectment, delivered possession of the boxing gym to the landlord.

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Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

Joint Venture Agreements – I would do anything for [my partners] but I won’t do that…

Three business partners arguing to illustrate an article by Richard Klass about Joint Venture Agreements

Acrobat PDF Version

Two partners owned vacant lots in Manhattan and wanted to build on them. They found two developers who pitched building townhouses on the lots. The four of them entered into a joint venture agreement (“JVA”). [1] Essentially, the agreement was that, in return for the developers paying off debts owed on the lots, refinancing an existing mortgage and obtaining a new construction loan, the lot owners would transfer the property to a limited liability company (“LLC”) to be jointly owned by all four of them.

Joint Venture Agreement

According to the JVA, ownership of the new LLC would be equally divided among the four partners (25% each). The LLC was supposed to refinance the property. The funds from the refinance would first be utilized to satisfy the existing mortgage on the property and then finance all of the construction costs for three single-family townhouses. The developers were to use their best efforts to obtain a construction loan to perform the purpose of the joint venture, and the lot owners were to fully cooperate in these efforts.

Formation of the LLC

One of the developers formed an LLC into which title to the lots would be transferred. The LLC was initially formed with him as the sole member for convenience purposes until the prospective refinance and closing were to take place, at which time all four partners would constitute the members.

Lack of cooperation

In order to comply with the mortgage lender’s requests about the property, the developers needed certain back-up documentation from the lot owners concerning expenses. The lot owners did not provide the requested items. Ultimately, they stopped cooperating with the developers. The developers retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, to pursue their rights under the joint venture agreement, including suing for breach of contract and to enforce a constructive trust over the vacant lots.

In response to the developers’ claims, the lot owners contended that they properly rejected the demand to transfer title to the property to the new LLC. They claimed that they were never provided with an operating agreement that named all four of the partners as members. The lot owners declared, “There was no way it was either reasonable or pursuant to the terms of the JVA that we were going to transfer the property worth at least $4,000,000.00 to an LLC in which we had no ownership interest and no control.”

The developers asserted that this defense was pretext — the lot owners never intended on complying with the joint venture agreement from the start. As fully laid out before the arbitrator, both in testimony and documentary evidence, the developers established that this defense was unfounded based on several facts: (1) the transfer tax documents, prepared by the title company, reflected all four joint venturers’ names and respective 25% interests in the new LLC; [2] (2) One of the lot owners himself emailed the title company the names of all four people for the new LLC; (3) the developer emailed the mortgage lender that all four people were partners in the new LLC; (4) the developer informed the lot owner that the mortgage lender needed a draft of the operating agreement, Excel spreadsheet and all checks following; and (5) the developers made various, substantial payments in furtherance of their joint venture prior to any deed transfer.

The developers claimed that the lot owners wrongfully breached their fiduciary duty that was created when they entered into the joint venture.[3] As joint venturers, the developers asserted the lot owners owed them a fiduciary duty to supply financial information which was within their exclusive control and they breached their duty by intentionally failing to cooperate and disclose pertinent information. Cooperation on the part of both sides to a contract is implied in every contract. See, Madison Pictures, Inc. v Pictorial Films, Inc., 6 Misc 2d 302, 324-25 (Sup. Ct. 1956) (“Where a matter is particularly within the knowledge of one party, it is his duty to supply the information.”); see also Weeks v. Rector of Trinity Church in City of New York, 56 App.Div. 195, 67 N.Y.S. 670, 672 (1st Dept. l900) (“The rule of law is that, when the obligation of performance by one party to a contract presupposes the doing of another act by the other party prior thereto, there arises an implied obligation of the second party to do the act which the performance of the contract necessarily…”).

The arbitrator determined that the developers were entitled to compensation from the lot owners for their substantial investment of time and money into the project. The arbitrator awarded half of the value of the property along with reimbursement for all of their expenses.

[1] Under New York law, five elements are necessary to form a joint venture: “(1) two or more persons must enter into a specific agreement to carry on an enterprise for profit; (2) their agreement must evidence their intent to be joint venturers; (3) each must make a contribution of property, financing, skill, knowledge or effort; (4) each must have some degree of joint control over the venture; and (5) there must be a provision for the sharing of both profits and losses.” Dinaco, Inc. v. Time Warner Inc., 346 F.3d 64, 67-68 (2d Cir. 2003).

[2] It was noted that both the Joint Venture Agreement and the NYC Real Property Transfer (RPT) Tax Return served as documentary evidence of the respective LLC ownership interests of the parties. As held in Matter of Pappas v Corfian Enterprises, Ltd., 22 Misc 3d 1113(A) [Sup Ct 2009], affd, 76 AD3d 679 [2d Dept 2010]: “In the real world, particularly that in which close corporations operate, clear evidence of share ownership is often not found in the corporate books and records, for any number of reasons. Other evidence must be found, and the lodestar for admissibility and probative value must be the contractual foundation for shareholder status. A court may consider the intent of the parties, particularly evidence of an agreement to form a corporation. (See Matter of Estate of Purnell v. LH Radiologists, 90 N.Y.2d at 530, 664 N.Y.S.2d 238, 686 N.E.2d 1332; Blank v. Blank, 256 A.D.2d at 689, 681 N.Y.S.2d 377.) * * *

Documentary evidence may be particularly probative when the documents were created under circumstances in which there was no incentive to fabricate. Among the types of documents that courts have considered, and that have been proffered in this case, are corporate and personal tax returns, bank loan documents, and financial statements. (See Matter of Capizola v. Vantage International, Ltd., 2 A.D.3d at 845, 770 N.Y.S.2d 395; Blank v. Blank, 256 A.D.2d at 694, 681 N.Y.S.2d 377; Hunt v. Hunt, 222 A.D.2d at 761, 634 N.Y.S.2d 804.

[3] It is well settled that joint venturers are governed by the same good-faith requirements as co-partners and the creation of a joint venture “imposes a fiduciary relationship, and not a simple contract.” Learning Annex Holdings, LLC v Whitney Educ. Group, Inc., 765 F Supp 2d 403, 412 [SDNY 2011]. In order to demonstrate a breach of fiduciary duty, there must be: “(i) the existence of a fiduciary duty; (ii) a knowing breach of that duty; and (iii) damages resulting therefrom.” N. Shipping Funds I, LLC v Icon Capital Corp., 921 F Supp 2d 94, 101 (S.D.N.Y. 2013)(Citing Johnson v. Nextel Communications, Inc., 660 F.3d 131, 138 (2d Cir. 2011)).

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“Slow Down, You Move Too Fast”

Simon & Garfunkel,
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)

Rabbit with yellow fur standing next to gray and yellow turtle illustrating article by Richard Klass about nonresident plaintiffs posting security for costs.

A foreign company sued a New York State resident, seeking to force the sale of his house in order to satisfy its judgment.  The company existed under New Jersey law with a New Jersey corporate address.  The house was located in Nassau County.

Petition to Sell House

The judgment creditor’s petition to sell real
property alleged that there was sufficient equity in the house exceeding the
homestead exemption and existing mortgage lien. 
The petition further alleged that attempts to execute on the judgment
debtor’s personal property failed and the creditor had otherwise been unable to
satisfy its judgment.  Combined, these
allegations would normally be enough to satisfy the pleading requirements under
CPLR 5203, 5206 and 5238.

In response to the petition, the debtor/homeowner retained Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, to defend the proceeding in order to retain his house.  The defenses put up included the fact that the mortgage lender had already begun foreclosure proceedings and there was a question as to the validity of the claim that there was any net equity in the property.  Further, since the house was owned by the debtor with his wife as a “ tenancy by the entirety, ” the house could not be sold without consideration of her property rights.

Stopping the Creditor in its tracks

Sometimes, a debtor needs a respite from the continual attacks by creditors.  One way to accomplish this is by a bankruptcy filing, in which the automatic stay imposed upon filing stops the pecking at a debtor’s assets by creditors.  Another way to slow down a creditor is to temporarily stay the lawsuit while the debtor and his family “ circle the wagons ” to either gather up strong defenses or develop an orderly plan in which debts will be repaid or settled.  An effective method of getting this pause is by requesting that the judge stay the lawsuit of a non-New York State creditor until the plaintiff/creditor posts security for the costs of the action.

Security for Costs

New York court rules require nonresident plaintiffs maintaining lawsuits in New York courts to post security for the costs for which they would be liable if their lawsuits were unsuccessful.  CPLR 8501(a) provides that, “ except where the plaintiff has been granted permission to proceed as a poor person or is the petitioner in a habeas corpus proceeding, upon motion by the defendant without notice, the court or judge thereof shall order security for costs to be given by the plaintiffs where none of them is a domestic corporation, a foreign corporation licensed to do business in the state or a resident of the state when the motion is made. ” CPLR 8502 provides that until security for costs is given pursuant to court order, all proceedings other than to review or vacate such order shall be stayed, and that if the plaintiff shall not have given security for costs at the expiration of 30 days from the date of the order, the court may dismiss the complaint upon motion by the defendant.

Security for costs is a device ordinarily used
against a nonresident plaintiff to make sure if he loses the case, he will not
return home and leave the defendant with a costs judgment that can be enforced
only in the plaintiff’s home state.  By
directing a nonresident to post a bond, the defendant is protected from
frivolous lawsuits and is assured that, if successful, he will be able to
recover costs from the plaintiff.

In rebuffing a challenge to the constitutionality
of the requirement of security for costs imposed upon a nonresident plaintiff,
the court in Clement v. Durban, 147
AD3d 39 [2016] aff’d 32 NY3d 337 [2018] cert denied 139 S.Ct. 2649 [2019] held
that the court rules do not deprive nonresident plaintiffs of reasonable and
adequate access to New York courts and, thus, are constitutional.  Where nonresidents are subject to different
treatment than New York residents, there must be reasonable grounds for
diversity of treatment (so as to prevent discrimination against citizens of
other states).  Disparity of treatment of
nonresidents is permitted in situations where there are valid, independent
reasons for it; in this situation, deterring frivolous or harassing lawsuits
and preventing prevailing defendants from having to chase plaintiffs into
foreign jurisdictions to collect their judgments are considered valid reasons.

Upon motion by the defendant requesting that the
plaintiff post a bond as security for costs, the judge granted the motion and
directed the nonresident plaintiff to post security in the amount of $10,000
for costs.  The plaintiff did not do so
within the 30 day period after the order and, accordingly, the court dismissed
the lawsuit.

Richard A. Klass, Esq.

©2019 Richard A. Klass. Credits: Photo of Richard Klass by Rob Abruzzese, 2019. Marketing agency: The Innovation Works, Inc. (www.TheInnovationWorks.com)  Image at top of page: Shutterstock

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[ nonresident plaintiffs ]

License to Enter and RPAPL 881: New Booklet by Richard A. Klass

A Man’s Home Is (Not Always) His Castle:
RPAPL 881 License to Enter Neighbor’s Property
by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

Download the free E-Book version in PDF format.
A free on-line web-book is available here.
12 pages/830 KB

Summary

A Man’s Home Is (Not Always) His Castle

In the current economic and political climate in New York City, which encourages building more and more housing units for the multitudes, it is not surprising that property owners are experiencing “growing pains.” Among those “growing pains” are the inconvenience and annoyance to neighboring property owners when a developer buys land next door, then seeks to build on that land, and must gain access through the adjacent owners’ property in order to do the work. Access may be needed to move equipment, build up to the property line, or deliver material to the building site.

RPAPL 881 grants a license to enter property:

New York law seeks to find middle ground between the property developer and the neighboring owner so that the developer may build its structure while the neighbor can be left relatively undisturbed.

R. A. Klass
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