Real Cases in Real Estate By Andrea Lee Negroni, Esq. – March 21st, 2012 Update

Real Cases in Real Estate By Andrea Lee Negroni, Esq. – March 21st, 2012 Update

Real Cases in Real Estate is a weekly update on real estate law, with legal principles illustrated and explained by lawsuits from around the country. The topics are wide-ranging for appeal to a broad spectrum of readers including lawyers, homeowners, investors and the general public. Andrea Lee Negroni, a Washington DC attorney and legal writer with 25 years of experience in financial services and mortgage law, contributes the case summaries.

Followers of Real Cases in Real Estate will learn and be entertained by lawsuits involving nuisance, trespass, zoning violations, deed restrictions, title insurance, public utilities, mechanics liens, construction defects, adverse possession, foreclosure and eviction, divorce and marital property rights, tenants' rights, and more. Real Cases in Real Estate uncovers the unpredictable, amusing, and sometimes outrageous disputes between next-door neighbors, contractors and homeowners, condo boards and residents, real estate brokers and homebuyers, and zoning administrators and developers.

Each fully cited case summary highlights the essential law of the case and explains the principal legal theories and concepts relevant to the outcome. Plain language treatment makes Real Cases in Real Estate accessible to lawyers and laymen alike.

Whether you follow real estate law professionally or as a hobby, you'll find something new and useful every week in Real Cases in Real Estate.

Updates for the Week of March 21st, 2012

Townhouse Owner Cannot Neglect his Property for 22 Years and Recover Repair Costs from the Estate of the Tenant.

Jacques Gulekjian owned a townhouse in Rock Hill, New York, which he bought new in 1986. He lived in the townhouse from the time he bought it until 1994, when he rented it to Judith Jaffe. Jaffe lived in the townhouse until she died in March 2008. Jaffe's daughter Nina was named executrix of her mother's estate.

Gulekjian filed a claim of $58,300 against the estate for work, labor, services and materials he claimed were necessary to repair the townhouse damaged by his tenant during her tenancy. He later revised his claim to $17,552.

Among the items claimed by the landlord were costs to replace the parquet floors, which he said were damaged by water and urine and beyond repair. Other items claimed included broken and cracked bathroom and kitchen tiles, a missing drawer from a kitchen cabinet, chipped and worn countertops, nail holes in the walls, broken appliances and a dirty refrigerator. The landlord said the driveway was not in good condition and he had to replace it.

At the hearing on the landlord's damages, the landlord admitted he had made no repairs to the property for the eight years he lived there or during the 12-year tenancy of Judith Jaffe. Moreover, he produced only one receipt for repairs, explaining that he paid cash to his laborers. The Estate of Jaffe testified that the property was cleaned by a professional cleaning company in April 2008, one month after Judith Jaffe's death. The owner of the cleaning company testified that the parquet floors could have been sanded and cleaned and that replacing them was unnecessary.

The court said the landlord failed to prove his tenant damaged the townhouse. "The condition of the premises after twenty-two years reflects normal wear and tear and the lack of any regular updates or maintenance." In other words, a landlord cannot neglect to repair his property for 22 years and thereafter perform a total renovation at his tenant's expense. Moreover, when the landlord has no receipts, cancelled checks or payment ledger proving repair expenses, he has insufficient evidence to support a claim for labor costs. The New York court awarded the landlord only the actual costs of the materials for the new parquet floor and $62 for replacement of the missing kitchen drawer.

Gulekjian v.  Estate of Judith A. Jaffe, 927 N.Y.S.2d 816; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1887 (April 26, 2011) [enhanced version available to subscribers].

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