In 2014, I represented a purchaser of two lots in the Estate Section of East Hampton, where the contract was contingent upon the seller obtaining certain approvals from the Town prior to closing. The seller became frustrated at the time the approvals were taking, and issued a “time of the essence” letter demanding a closing even though the approvals had not been obtained.
Within a matter of days after being retained, I commenced an action to compel specific performance against the seller, and put a notice of pendency on the property. The matter settled quickly and favorably to my client.
In 2016-17 I represented a family in Southampton whose property shared a driveway with another home. The neighbors were regularly renting their house out to tenants who held big parties and parked all over the shared driveway and in my clients' front yard. I brought an action against the neighbors to enjoin blockage of the shared driveway and for declaratory relief as to the scope of the neighbors' easement rights. I put a notice of pendency on the neighbors' property. The neighbors were motivated to resolve the action quickly by establishing a separate driveway on their own property. A new easement agreement was made, including strong property protections for my clients, and when the matter was completed, my clients installed a fence and gate to ensure lasting peace and privacy in their home.
In 2013-14, I represented the owner of a vacant parcel of land in the Southampton Village Estate section. She had bought the property in the 1970s and had been living out of the country for many years. She decided to sell the property and entered into a contract for a substantial price, but a survey revealed that her neighbors had made a substantial encroachment on her land. Both my client’s property and the neighbors’ property were each about one acre in size, but the neighbors had encroached upon almost half of my client’s lot. The neighbors claimed that they had become owners of the encroachment area through adverse possession. The sale could not proceed until this dispute was resolved.
I marshaled all of the relevant evidence and legal arguments in court papers, and made an injunction motion to the Supreme Court, Suffolk County (in Riverhead, N.Y.). The judge issued a temporary restraining order (T.R.O.) requiring the neighbors to remove their encroachments immediately.
I then continued my legal and factual research, using my exhaustive, “scorched earth” approach, and discovered that the neighbors had previously sued the Town to try lower their taxes, claiming that their property was only one acre in size. I submitted this argument to the court and, shortly thereafter, a settlement was reached on terms favorable to my client and her sale was closed.
I am currently representing the owner of several parcels in the Estate Section of the Village of Southampton, whose neighbors claim a right to drive over a portion of her property for ingress and egress to a public road. However, the neighbors’ property fronts directly on another public road, and they appear to want to use my client’s property as a secondary access for service trucks and other vehicles. The neighbors’ usage of my client’s land increased substantially in recent years, invading her privacy and causing damage to her lawn, trees and sprinkler heads. The parties’ interactions were unpleasant and the situation was heating up.
When I was retained, I immediately hired an expert on real-property titles to do deep research into the title history. My expert traced the title back more than 100 years and discovered that, although there were references to an “easement” over my client’s property in some recent deeds, no easement had, in fact, been properly created by a common grantor and, therefore, the neighbors’ claim that they had granted easement rights over my client’s property was invalid.
I then commenced an action on my client’s behalf, and asked the State Supreme Court in Riverhead to issue a temporary restraining order barring the neighbor from entering onto my client’s property. The T.R.O. was granted and continues in place as of this writing, giving my client immediate relief and setting a strong tone for the further litigation of this continuing case.
Over the past 15 years, I have handled a number of “partition” cases, which is the judicial process by which people who own property jointly can bring their joint ownership to an end. Many of my partition cases have involved adult siblings who jointly own their childhood home. This type of dispute can be highly emotional and painful for the parties involved -- very much like a divorce.
My philosophy is to move the cases along as quickly as possible so the pain can come to an end. Usually there are two possible outcomes: either one sibling buys the other(s) out; or the property is sold to a third party for a favorable price. It is important to determine early in the proceedings whether a buy-out is realistic and, if not, then to move quickly toward a third-party sale.
In 2014, I represented three adult siblings who had come to a disagreement with a fourth sibling regarding their family home in Sag Harbor. I started a partition action which forced all parties to come to the table. It quickly became clear that a buy-out was not realistic, so I worked with all of my clients and opposing counsel to negotiate and consummate a third-party sale that was in all of the owners’ best interests. It was an emotional process that took time and patience, but all parties received the proceeds to which they were entitled, and they have since been free to move on with their independent lives.
In 2015, I succeeded in obtaining all of the necessary permits for a client to build a new home on Big Fresh Pond, north of the Village of Southampton. The permitting process was difficult, for many reasons. First, there was substantial opposition by neighbors, who argued that a restrictive covenant going back to the 1930s prohibited the development. Second, the property was so constrained that significant wetlands variances were required from the Conservation Board of the Town of Southampton and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Finally, the property was severely infested with invasive bamboo and required a mitigation plan unlike anything the Conservation Board had previously considered.
I worked with local planners, engineers and architects to develop, refine and present an application package that was ultimately approved. In addition, I did deep historical research and used old surveys and aerial photographs to demonstrate to the Town that a house had previously existed on the lot. I effectively addressed the neighbors’ legal arguments regarding the restrictive covenant and prevented it from becoming an issue before the Conservation Board. Ultimately, all necessary approvals were granted, the neighbors declined to make any legal challenge in court, and the project is, as of this writing, under construction.
In 2015-16, I represented the owner of commercial waterfront property in Southampton, which was in the process of getting approvals for the redevelopment of its site, which included a marina and a dug lagoon. During the approval process, a question was raised as to the title to the land under the dug lagoon, and the Town would not issue approvals until the question of whether the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of Southampton had an ownership interest in those underwater lands was resolved.
I commenced a “quiet title” action under Article 15 of the New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, which is the primary mechanism under New York law for resolving title disputes. Shortly thereafter, I completed the negotiation of an agreement with the Town Trustees which included all of the documents necessary for a title insurance company to certify my client’s title to the underwater lands. This settlement cleared a major hurdle for the client and allowed it to proceed with its approval process.
In 2016, I represented the owner of a home in Southampton who had a shared or “common” driveway with his neighbor (a common scenario in the Hamptons and on the East End). The neighbors had been renting their house out and their tenants were throwing parties and parking all over my client’s driveway. The situation had become intolerable.
I researched the title and all of the files maintained in the Town of Southampton, which had approved a minor subdivision plan for the lots in question. I started an action against the neighbor and filed of a notice of pendency. The neighbor sought a negotiation and I worked with his attorney to forge a resolution that separated our clients’ driveways but still satisfied the Town Engineer. The dispute was resolved quickly and effectively.
In 2016, I began representing an oceanfront property owner on Flying Point Road in Water Mill, just west of the periodic inlet or “cut” between Mecox Bay and the Atlantic Ocean managed by the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of Southampton. The client had previously experienced erosion as a result of this cut being left open for excessive periods of time.
I retained expert assistance from a nationally-recognized coastal geologist who was familiar with the Mecox Bay cut and its dynamics. With his studies and opinions as backup, I demanded that the Trustees adopt a clear and enforceable protocol for closure of the cut under certain specified conditions. I made my client’s objections known not only to the Trustees but also to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which also have jurisdiction over the project.
While a permanent management plan is still being worked out by the agencies, my submissions and arguments resulted in the State D.E.C. including closure conditions in its most recent emergency permit for the cut, issued on October 11, 2016. This was the first time that any limitations had been imposed upon the Trustees’ management of the Mecox Bay cut, and it marked major progress toward ensuring that my client’s oceanfront property is protected from erosion.
In 2015, I represented the owner of property in Bridgehampton over which a neighbor claimed a prescriptive easement, arguing that they and their predecessors had used a portion of my clients’ property to access the beach for a period of more than ten years. I evaluated the claim and succeeded in negotiating a settlement to the full satisfaction of my clients, including the placement, in perpetuity, of extensive restrictions on the use of the easement area and a substantial payment.