Homeowners: Knowing your rights and remedies!

By | September 3, 2014

What are some of the issues facing homeowners and potential remedies they may have at their disposal to preserve the sanctity and value of their property?

Leslie Feifer, a Partner in the Real Estate Group of Jaspan Schlesinger, has written on the subject and we are fortunate to be able to provide her thoughts to our readers here.

For some background, Leslie has been with Jaspan Schlesinger (60-year old full-service law firm headquartered on Long Island, New York) for over 17 years and she specializes in all aspects of commercial and residential real estate including:

  • Representing buyers and sellers and borrowers, including municipalities, estates, and private lending institutions in connection with purchases, sales, mortgage refinancing;
  • Ancillary business (LLC, corporation) formation associated with real estate purchases and sales and affiliated member/shareholder/partner negotiations with respect to such business formations;
  • Coop and condominium conversions;
  • Leasing on behalf of landlords and tenants;
  • IRC Section 1031 deferred tax exchanges;
  • Representing court appointed fiduciaries in connection with varying real estate matters.

What are two or three of the biggest concerns for Long Island homeowners when it comes to protecting their legal rights?

That’s a very vague question but off the top of my head, three big concerns associated with homeowners protecting their legal rights have to do with exercising diligence on their own behalf

Homeowners must pay attention to requirements and deadlines if they want to obtain tax abatements or exemptions which they may be entitled to with respect to their properties. If a homeowner misses a deadline for submitting a requisite application or submission to the appropriate municipal authority, the homeowner has missed its opportunity to obtain that exemption or benefit for an entire year. I’ve received many complaints about deadlines and there are very few exceptions, if any, if a deadline is missed;

If a mechanics lien or any other lien is placed upon the homeowner’s property, address it immediately. The longer the homeowner waits, the more interest which could accrue on that judgment meaning more money owed in the end. Even more importantly, if the lien is inappropriately placed against the home and the homeowner actually has a defense against the judgment and can get it dismissed, why wait to address it? Waiting to address such an issue can wreak havoc when the time comes to sell or refinance the property;

Address violations issued by municipalities against the property. Obtain the appropriate electrical, plumbing and other certificates when performing improvements on your home. Then it will not be a mad rush when you go to sell or refinance to resolve such items.

There are many more but these are common ones which I deal with on a regular basis.

Can you briefly describe how a Homeowner Association or similar entity typically affects a homeowner or condominium owner in a subdivision or planned unit?

The scope of a homeowners association’s (“HOA”) role can vary depending on how the HOA is set up and how big the development is. Generally, in a development the HOA is responsible for ensuring that the common areas are maintained – the pool, the gym, the lobby. There is usually a working capital fund set up for repairs to common area items ? walks, elevators, snow removal. If the reserve fund is not enough to cover a project, the HOA may have to impose assessments against the HOA owners to cover the costs of any such project. I’ve seen assessments implemented over the years to cover items such as fuel surcharges, to comply with local law requirements, to fix facades and roofs, among other items. When purchasing a condo or HOA property, it is important to review the HOA or condominium financials to see there are enough reserve funds for repairs. HOA’s and condominiums are not profit making entities. They are there to make sure the development functions properly. Homeowners Associations are a different form of ownership than condominium ownership. Condominiums usually are managed by a managing agent who oversees” common area” issues in a similar way that HOA’s do.

Is there something that most people do not know about HOAs in Long Island that they should consider before buying a house or condo that is subject to HOA rules and regulations?

Review of financials is always an initial step when looking to buy in an HOA development or a condominium. That goes along with a review of the Offering Plan pertaining to the HOA or condo. The importance of reviewing the Plan often depends on how long it has been since the Sponsor has ceded control of the HOA or the condo to the HOA Board or the condo Board. You often want to see how many “sponsor” units are still retained to see what could be holding up selling the units. Is there faulty construction? Have there been complaints from neighbors or potential buyers? Are the HOA units or condo units free standing or individual units? Do you want to review minutes to see complaints about the particular unit? I’ve seen complaints about smoke from neighbors leaking into attached units; water leaks from upstairs and neighboring units; noisy neighbors; litigation being addressed by the HOA or condo association , which could result in assessments if the litigated matter is not covered by insurance. The list goes on but a potential owner should definitely inspect out the unit several times to see if something is “different” than the prior visit.

What are some of the most common property issues that you’ve seen happen between homeowners and a government agency?

I’ve seen many things happen between homeowners and municipal agencies

Condemnation proceedings where a municipal entity commences a proceeding to take over a person’s property so that the municipal agency can build a library, a fire house, a school, provide for drainage of a county lake or other body of water, or do any sort of work which is for the benefit of the “public” being;

Municipal requests for licenses or easements to obtain access over properties so that the municipality can install pipes or repair pipes at street level which are connected to the homeowners properties;

Disputes with respect to a homeowners failure to comply with state, town or county building codes, most often, failure to obtain appropriate certificates of occupancy or completion for improvements like decks, sheds, fences, sometimes air conditioners, pools, tennis courts.

What basic steps would you advise a homeowner to take if they are experiencing one of those issues?

Depending on the issue the homeowner can make an initial inquiry as to what may be involved and may be able to address it themselves but I always advise potential clients check with experienced real estate counsel since counsel will most likely have dealt with such issue and know how to achieve the maximum benefit for the homeowner. (LongIslandForSale)

If you have any additional questions or would like to reach Leslie, her contact information is (516) 746-8000 and Lfeifer@jaspanllp.com.


Written by Michael Haltman, President of Hallmark Abstract Service, New York.

HAS is a provider of title insurance in New York State for residential and commercial real estate transactions specializing in the areas of New York City, Long Island and Westchester.

Remember that you have the right to choose your own title company (click here to learn more)!

If you have any questions you can reach Michael by email at mhaltman@hallmarkabstractllc.com.

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