Foreclosure Over a $6.00 Debt? | Long Island Landlord Tenant Lawyer

Foreclosures in Brooklyn and throughout the New York area are something that every homeowner works hard to avoid. Most individuals know that missed mortgage payments can lead to this unfortunate outcome, but they may not realize that missed tax payments can have the same result. One Pennsylvania widow has learned this fact the hard way.

The Story

Eileen Battisti, a widow living in western Pennsylvania, resides in a home worth approximately $280,000. When her husband passed away in 2004, she had to assume responsibility for the finances. As she struggled to sort things out, she fell behind on some of the property taxes due on the home. Battisti tried to take care of the debt by paying off all the taxes of which she was aware. Unfortunately, she missed a $6.30 charge that had been listed on her 2009 tax bill. By late 2011, late fees and penalties were added to that amount for a total of $235 owed to the county. Battisti states that she received no further notice of her debt until she was informed that her house was scheduled to be sold at auction. Upon receiving the notification, she attempted to obtain a court hearing but was denied. Her house was sold for $116,000 – a fraction of its worth.

The Next Step

Just like smart homeowners facing foreclosures in Brooklyn, Eileen refused to give up without a fight. She went back to court and filed an appeal of sale. Under the law, the new owner cannot take possession of the property while the sale is being appealed, so Eileen has been living in her “sold” home for nearly two years. Recently, a judge ruled that the court should not have denied her original request for a hearing. The relatively small amount owed compared to the value of the home should have at least merited a consideration of her case.

The Back Story

The final outcome for Eileen Battisti remains to be seen, but at least she will have an opportunity to present her case in court. Her situation is not an isolated one, however. Many local governments are using delinquent tax payments as a way to bolster tight budgets and are aggressively pursuing homeowners with late or missed payments. Although this particular case may have been mishandled, many others have been conducted completely within the law. One report states that a year’s tax lien sales equal more than $15 billion.

If you are facing foreclosure due to delinquent property tax payments, it is important to obtain good legal representation as quickly as possible. The professionals of Witkon Law are ready to help with foreclosures in Brooklyn and throughout the Long Island area. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

Security Promised But Delayed | Long Island Landlord Tenant Lawyer

Tenants in one Bronx rental complex have had enough of delays and empty promises. Despite being taken over by the New York City Housing Authority, this facility still has serious deficits in its security and other important amenities.

The Tenants’ Complaint

Middletown Plaza is a senior housing facility located in the Bronx. It is a 15-story building with 178 apartments and was originally constructed in 1973.  The nearly two hundred seniors that live in this complex, however, are fed up with the facility’s deficiencies. For years, residents have been asking that security cameras be installed in the building’s elevators and hallways and also in the area around the complex. More than a year ago, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) promised that they would address the security concerns as well as some other repair issues. In fact, as early as 2011, the city council designated funds to make the security improvements. Work started on the project in March, but the cameras are still not operational.

Additional Issues

In the meantime, other issues with the Bronx rental facility continue to develop. In June, rainstorms flooded the building, putting elevators out of commission and rendering stairwells unusable. With no accessible exits, some senior citizens were trapped in their apartments. Although it is perhaps the most flagrant example, the Middletown Plaza facility is not the only one with problems. The NYCHA runs a number of rental complexes around the city, serving more than 600,000 tenants. Many of these residents have serious issues with the city’s management of their buildings. In fact, one mayoral candidate questioned why so many NYCHA buildings were in disrepair when the Authority has nearly $700 million available for its use.

Implications

Facilities in disrepair and poor landlord response to tenant complaints are problems that are not unique to this Bronx rental facility. It is reasonable to expect better things from a city-run housing authority, but in reality these issues are common to many tenants across New York City. It is important that landlords and management companies be held responsible to provide reasonable accommodations and security measures for their residents. Putting off or delaying repairs must be addressed by legal action, if necessary.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to the tenants of this Bronx rental complex, you need a lawyer who will help to protect your interests. David Witkon Law has experience working on behalf of New York area tenants to deal with difficult landlords. Contact our office today for a free consultation about your situation.

The Importance of Hiring an Accurate Lawyer | Long Island Landlord Tenant Lawyer

A recent Manhattan housing case has given all Queens landlord tenant lawyers some cause for concern. Their unease stems from the fact that the court found in favor of the tenant, but the lawyer–not the landlord–was the one held liable.

The Story

Rafael Lee, an 82-year-old immigrant, has lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan since his arrival in the United States in 1965. His rent is set at $790.30 a month, but he also has a $400.00 rent subsidy from the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption program. A notice was given to Mr. Lee that eviction proceedings had been initiated against him for nonpayment of rent, but the figures did not take into account his $400 rent subsidy. Mr. Lee quickly obtained a lawyer, who informed the landlord’s law firm of the error. Once the law firm verified that a mistake had been made, they initiated a motion to discontinue the case against Mr. Lee.

His home was safe, but Mr. Lee felt that the anxiety and distress he had suffered deserved some compensation. Therefore, he filed a lawsuit for damages. A judge determined that the landlord’s law firm had initiated the eviction proceedings based on incorrect business records provided by the landlord’s management company. The judge ruled that the attorneys should have verified those records more carefully before filing their case and held the law firm liable for damages. Rather than go to court to determine the amount, the firm reached a settlement with Mr. Lee for $22,000 plus $108,000 in legal fees

The Ramifications

This case sets an unusual precedent for Queens landlord tenant lawyers and indeed for all lawyers in this practice area. The court’s decision was based on a federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is designed to hold debt collection agencies accountable for any errors that they make. Law firms have reacted to this decision by instituting procedures to verify information provided to them by their clients in an effort to protect against future lawsuits of a similar nature.

If you own rental property and employ a Queens landlord tenant lawyer, it is important to be sure that your attorney is careful and accurate in his data collection. Although this case found the attorney to be liable, there is no guarantee that a future case may not hold a landlord culpable as well. The Witkon Law Firm is ready to help you with all aspects of New York’s complex and ever-changing landlord tenant law. Contact the office today for a free consultation on how to protect yourself from lawsuits like this one.

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Judicial vs. Non-Judicial Foreclosure: What’s the Difference? | Long Island Landlord Tenant Lawyer

Foreclosure

Foreclosure (Photo credit: zane.hollingsworth)

According to New York state law, Nassau County foreclosures can be either judicial or non-judicial. These terms are unfamiliar to many, and often homeowners are unaware that their house may be eligible for a non-judicial foreclosure.

Judicial Foreclosures 

A judicial foreclosure is the more common type of foreclosure proceeding in the state of New York. In this process, the lender files suit against the borrower for nonpayment. There is typically a lengthy court proceeding to determine if the lender has the rights to the property and if the borrower is truly in default on the loan. During this time, the borrower can offer a defense and may be able to negotiate a settlement with the lender. If the court decides in favor of the lender, the borrower typically has a period of time in which to pay the amount owed. If payment is not made, then the court will authorize the sale of the house, often by public auction.  Most Nassau County foreclosures are of this type.

Non-Judicial Foreclosure

A non-judicial foreclosure is a much faster process than a judicial one. As is evident from the name, this type of foreclosure does not involve the court system. In a state that permits non-judicial foreclosures, buyers sign an additional piece of paperwork when they receive their mortgage. This paper contains some special wording known as a power of sale clause. This clause gives the lender the authority to sell the property if the buyer defaults on their mortgage payments. Since the legal authority has already been granted, this process can occur very quickly. The only warning that an individual may receive of an impending foreclosure is the notice that the house is up for sale. At this point, the borrower has very little time to produce a payment or mount any sort of defense. In fact, since the court system is not involved, the borrower must be the one to file a case to obtain a temporary injunction to prevent the sale. This process can be very fast and scary for an unprepared homeowner.

This sort of legal situation is a perfect example of one of the reasons homeowners should seek legal counsel to protect themselves against Nassau County foreclosures. Potential homeowners may sign paperwork permitting non-judicial foreclosures without even being aware of its inclusion. Those who receive a notice that their home is being sold are nearly completely defenseless without legal guidance. Don’t wait for this kind of scenario to happen to you. Contact Witkon Law today for a free consultation on your potential property purchase and ensure that your home is protected from such summary action.

Pressure to End the “Shadow Docket” | Long Island Landlord Tenant Lawyer

Homeowners facing foreclosures in Suffolk County and throughout New York will soon get a little relief, since the governor has agreed to sign a newly passed bill into law. The bill is designed to eliminate loopholes that allow foreclosure cases to stall in the court system.

The Way It Was

The foreclosure process is initiated when a lender files a complaint against a homeowner for not paying his mortgage. After filing the complaint, the lender then files a Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI), which officially starts the judicial process. Once this request is received, the courts schedule foreclosure settlement conferences between the homeowner and the lender, provide housing counseling, and offer free legal advice.

The Way It Developed

In the past, there have been difficulties with lenders starting foreclosure proceedings even though they are not legally the owners of the loan. To deal with this problem, in 2010, a law was passed that required lenders to file an affirmation that certified the legitimacy of their lawsuit. They were to file the affirmation at the same time as the RJI. Unfortunately, instead of simply filing both sets of paperwork at the beginning of the foreclosure proceeding, many lenders began to delay the filing of the RJI to allow more time to prepare the affirmation. As a result, homeowners were caught in what is termed the “shadow docket.” Foreclosure proceedings have been initiated against them, but they do not yet have access to the mediation and services offered by the court system. As they wait, interest and fees continue to climb, increasing the amount they owe to their mortgage company. Unfortunately, homeowners that fall into this “shadow docket” typically lose their homes completely.

The Way It Will Become

As more foreclosures in Suffolk County and other parts of the state got stuck in the “shadow docket,” lawmakers began to look for a way to address the problem. Their solution was a bill that requires mortgage lenders to submit the affirmation when they initiate their foreclosure lawsuit. This plan will eliminate the reason for the delay in filing the RJI and will give homeowners immediate access to the resources available to them through the court system. The bill was approved by the state legislature in June and then signed into law by the governor on July 31st. The law will go into effect 30 days from that date.

If you are one of the homeowners battling foreclosures in Suffolk County or in Nassau County, Witkon Law can help to protect you against unscrupulous lenders. An foreclosure lawyer can ensure that the law is followed to the letter and that you receive the protection you deserve. Contact the Witkon Law office today for a free consultation.

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Tenants Stuck Outside for Months | Long Island Landlord Tenant Lawyer | Attorney

English: Looking east across 33d St at former ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For any group of tenants in Long Island, eviction is always a fear, even if a distant one. Typically, however, the landlord initiates an eviction. When tenants are instead removed from their dwellings by the city, the results can be devastating.

81 Bowery

In Chinatown on Bowery Street, there is a single-room occupancy tenement. It is rent controlled and occupied mainly by Chinese immigrants. They live in tiny cubicles and share a bathroom with other tenants, paying $200 a month for the privilege. But despite these cramped conditions, they consider their dwellings home and have built close relationships with the other residents

Unfortunately for these individuals, the owners of their building have a history of poor property management and have been cited with numerous code violations. In November of 2008, the city ruled the tenement too hazardous for occupancy and expelled the residents from their homes. Nine months later, they were finally permitted to return. Despite this incident, management continued to neglect the upkeep of the building.

Recent Events

On March 7, the history of this Manhattan eviction was repeated. The previous week, news station CNN had run a piece about the living conditions in the tenement. An Arizona viewer saw the report and called the city. In response, the city issued a vacate order. New York Fire Department personnel arrived at the building in the middle of the day when most residents were at work. They broke down the doors to all the rooms, and, as tenants returned home, informed them that must immediately leave the premises. The Red Cross offered shelter for a few days, but residents soon found themselves on the streets.

The Present

Now, more than four months later, these individuals are still homeless. Despite promises that management would address code violations within two weeks of the eviction, the building remains unsafe for occupancy. Tenants have organized protests to no avail. These individuals seem to have been overlooked and forgotten by both the city and their landlord. Only time will tell if they will again be able to obtain housing that is both safe and affordable.

There are things tenants can do to prevent this Long Island eviction story from repeating itself. It is vital for residents of a building to stay aware of the conditions of their dwelling and take steps to force landlords to deal with violations. If a landlord does not respond to requests, legal action must be taken before the living conditions become hazardous. If you have concerns about your landlord’s response to problems in your dwelling, you should protect yourself by seeking legal counsel immediately. The Long Island Landlord Tenant attorneys at Witkon Law are happy to help you consider your options. Don’t allow your landlord’s neglect to cause an eviction in Long Island. Contact Witkon Law today for a free consultation.

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Bank Employees Rewarded for Bringing About Foreclosures

As many homeowners worry about the high number of foreclosures in Long Island and struggle to make their mortgage payments, reports of one company’s questionable business tactics are likely to precipitate both fear and anger in their hearers. Former employees of Bank of America are testifying on behalf of homeowners who were denied modifications to their loans. If their stories are true, every individual with a mortgage will have cause for concern.

The Allegations

Some former employees of Bank of America state that the company awarded cash bonuses of $500 to employees who sent at least 10 cases into foreclosure. Smaller numbers of foreclosures reportedly earned gift cards for retail stores.  Another employee reported receiving $25 bonuses and restaurant gift cards for denying applications for loans. Because of this reward system, the employees were motivated to meet quotas of foreclosures and loan disqualifications by any means necessary. Some individuals report incidents of managers removing paperwork from a file in order to disallow an application or simply rejecting applications without a sound basis. In fact, some allege that Bank of America actually instructed employees to delay and mislead customers. This information has been furnished in support of a lawsuit currently pending in the court system. The case was filed by a group of homeowners who were denied permanent loan modifications even after properly completing the application and trial program.

The State of New York

Unfortunately, this recent report is not the first instance of mishandled foreclosures in Long Island and throughout the state of the New York. In fact, Bank of America, along with four other mortgage companies, agreed to a $25 billion settlement in 2012 in response to accusations of improper foreclosures. The settlement prescribed guidelines to protect homeowners from abusive foreclosure proceedings. Included in the guidelines were specific timelines and procedures for dealing with loan modification applications. Based on the reports of Bank of America employees, a New York attorney has announced that he plans to bring a lawsuit against the company for violating the settlement agreement.

The Response of the Company

Bank of America is denying all allegations and claiming that these former employees are grossly misrepresenting both the actions and intents of its staff. They state that they are committed to helping customers who find themselves under the threat of foreclosure. They also argue that the state of New York has no basis for their threats to take legal action against the company.

This report simply underscores the importance of retaining qualified legal representation when threatened with foreclosure. Homeowners facing foreclosures in Long Island can find assistance at the Witkon Law firm. Contact us today for a free consultation.

HSBC in Trouble for Irregular New York Foreclosures | Long Island Landlord Tenant Lawyer

English: Sign of the times - Foreclosure

English: Sign of the times – Foreclosure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Borrowers and banks usually enjoy a friendly relationship. It’s an exciting day when an individual or couple signs the papers for a mortgage, sealing the deal on their new home. Handshakes, smiles, and free pens make the whole process festive—a milestone in the life of a growing family. But when things have not gone according to plan and foreclosure is on the horizon, that relationship often changes for the worse.

Shady Activities

In New York, foreclosures are notoriously common; so common, in fact, that officials conducted an investigation concluding that a number of different banks were at fault for failing to follow the correct protocols when pushing for foreclosure. HSBC, a prominent mortgage lending bank, was not included in the investigation, but New York’s attorney general has filed a separate lawsuit against the bank, accusing it of the same kinds of shady activities.

Not Willing to Help

At issue is a legal requirement that a bank offer help, in the form of negotiations to modify loan terms, when a borrower is in trouble. This requirement is intended to give homeowners a last alternative to foreclosure, with both the borrower and the lender making compromises. Unfortunately, the attorney general’s lawsuit alleges that many New York foreclosures conducted by HSBC did not include those negotiations.

Stalling Tactics

Many New York homeowners are shocked to discover the kind of stalling tactics that their banks engage in when their home is on the line. The attorney general will seek to prove that HSBC put off the required negotiations for months, and even years in some cases, while continuing to allow the borrowers to get farther behind on their loans. The farther behind a borrower is, the less likely it is that negotiations to avoid foreclosure will be successful.

The Lawsuit’s Goal

In filing the case against HSBC, the attorney general will attempt to recover damages for those who have already been the victims of irregular New York foreclosures. In addition, of course, he will try to ensure that HSBC complies with state law in the future, giving troubled homeowners the chance to stay in their homes and follow a modified payment plan to meet their loan obligations.

If you are in danger of foreclosure and want to know what your options are, contact us for a free consultation. We will work to prevent foreclosure and negotiate a plan that will keep you in your home.

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Why Use A Lawyer for Real Estate Transactions? | Long Island Attorney

real-estate-photography-nicci

real-estate-photography-nicci (Photo credit: shotbynicci)

The state of New York does not require homebuyers to retain the services of a lawyer, but it is an almost universal practice to do so. Individuals relocating from other areas may question the need for legal representation, but there are several reasons that make it the wisest choice.

A Guide Through the Complexity

Real estate transactions in Nassau County can be quite complex, and an experienced lawyer can provide invaluable guidance through the process. Potential homebuyers should choose a lawyer before they even make an offer on a house. A lawyer can help to negotiate the contract with the seller. They can help the buyer to review the terms of the agreement and ask for any needed adjustments. Retaining the services of a competent lawyer will also give the buyer credibility in the negotiating process. If roadblocks are encountered during the purchasing process, a lawyer familiar with the system can help to move things along.

A Protection from Financial Mistakes

With the high prices of real estate in Suffolk County, a home purchase will be a major financial commitment. A competent attorney can help protect buyers from making costly mistakes that they will later regret. Many home purchases in the New York City area involve co-ops. In these cases, the lawyer will review the finances and board meeting minutes of the co-op. Because of his familiarity with these groups, he may spot potential problems that the more inexperienced homebuyer would have missed.

An Advocate Without Bias

The process of purchasing and selling a home can be emotionally charged for everyone involved. The seller is trying to complete the transaction to obtain the cash purchase price; the buyer is attempting to procure a piece of property; and each real estate agent is interested in earning his or her commission. The real estate lawyer is the only completely unbiased party involved. This detachment can be very useful by providing an objective opinion and voice that can help the buyer make reasoned decisions instead of emotional ones.

The attorneys of Witkon Law have a great deal of experience in dealing with real estate transactions. They will be glad to serve as your guide, protection, and advocate to ensure that you have the best possible outcome. If you are planning to make a home purchase in Suffolk or Nassau County, contact the office today for a free consultation.

Foreclosures in New York Increasing | Long Island Attorney

Half million dollar house in Salinas, Californ...

Half million dollar house in Salinas, California under foreclosure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much of the nation is seeing encouraging signs of an improving housing market. Foreclosures are decreasing in nearly every state. However, in a few states, the number of foreclosures continues to rise.

A Recent Report

Realty Trac, Inc., a foreclosure listing firm, released a report in mid-April that detailed the number of home repossessions and compared them with numbers from the previous year. Thirty-four states reported a decline in the number of foreclosures. Twelve states saw an increase. The state of New York had the most dramatic upsurge with a two hundred percent increase in foreclosure starts during March of 2013 as compared with March of 2012. According to Realty Trac’s statistics, the Long Island area of New York was particularly impacted by these high numbers. Suffolk County and Nassau County hold the first and third positions for foreclosure rates. The data shows that 1 in every 465 homes in Suffolk County is in the process of repossession.

The Demographics

Another report compiled by the Empire Justice Center takes a look at the demographics of these threatened homeowners. The report states that the communities in Long Island with the highest numbers of foreclosures are also the areas where a major concentration of African-American and Hispanic families resides. These neighborhoods also tend to have an unusually sharp decline in home values and poor access to loans and other assistance.  Empire’s statistics show that Long Island represents nearly 26 percent of the state’s foreclosure filings for the first half of 2012.

A Response

These statistics are unsettling, but not nearly as frightening as the predicaments of the homeowners they represent. These hard numbers represent hundreds of real families, struggling to make ends meet, yet facing the loss of the property they worked so hard to purchase. When the first summons arrives, they will likely be devastated, unsure of what to do or where to turn. It is important to communicate to these homeowners that help is available. An experienced foreclosure lawyer can help them to mount a vigorous defense. From negotiations to loan modifications, there are a number of options that may enable these families to keep their homes, but it is important to act quickly.

If you or someone you know is experiencing this devastating scenario, the law offices of Witkon Law can help. Don’t let foreclosure end your family’s dreams of home ownership. Contact us today for a free consultation.