For more than 15 years, we have used our knowledge of the intricate and arcane laws of real property, as well as the highly specific zoning and environmental regulations that apply in the Hamptons, to help owners of high-value properties resolve their most vexing property issues.
We do this work because we know that Hamptons real estate is more than an investment. For many owners, their Hamptons property represents not only a major financial asset, but a place where they can rest, relax and restore their health and sense of wellbeing. These properties often serve as an expression of their owners’ sense of natural or architectural beauty, and they can be an important center of family life. So when Hamptons property owners’ autonomy and rights are threatened or attacked, the stakes are high indeed.
Using aggressive and effective litigation strategies, from preliminary remedies such as temporary restraining orders, through carefully crafted motion papers, briefs, trials and appeals, we have established a strong track record of winning some of the toughest and hardest-fought cases in the Hamptons, both in and out of court.
Property owners do not only call on us when they are in litigation. Often, we help clients simply to understand what their property rights are. While that may be a simple question, answering it is not always a simple task. It requires not only deep knowledge of the relevant laws and codes, but also a multi-layered investigation and analysis of data sources including real-property records (sometimes reaching back hundreds of years), Surrogate’s Court records, Town or Village files and records, maps, surveys, and aerial photography. We marshal and navigate all of these resources and more, on behalf of our clients.
Abraham Lincoln once said of practicing law that, when he got a good case to handle, he loved to “ferret out the questions to the bottom…to dig up the question by the roots and hold it up and dry it before the fires of the mind.” It is a true pleasure to distill the results of our extensive research down to the essential questions and issues so that our clients can fully understand them, and so that we can guide them in the protection and enjoyment of these most important rights.
SKILLS AND STRATEGIES
Technology. We take advantage of all the latest technological tools available in the field of land use to gather and organize information to advance our clients’ position. We use online databases, including the Town of Southampton’s GIS system, Suffolk County’s GIS and AREIS databases, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation databases, to find
- Permitting history
- Wetlands designations
- Zoning districts and overlays
- Aerial photos, both current and historic
- Current and historic tax assessment information
- Elevation information
- FEMA zone classifications, including LiMWA (“limit of moderate wave action”)
- Hurricane surge (“SLOSH”) zones mapped by the National Hurricane Center
We use GIS and Google Maps technology not only to find and organize information but also to create powerful graphic exhibits based on current and/or historical aerial photography-pictures that are worth a thousand words and can carry the day with judges.
In addition to real-property mapping and land-use technology, we use the latest legal databases, including LexisNexis and Casemaker, for thorough, efficient and up-to-date legal and public records research.
We also use personal productivity software to ensure that we are meeting our clients’ needs most efficiently and effectively, and we use advanced document and information-organizing systems to ensure that we can find any necessary document or piece of information on a moment’s notice, any time, anywhere.
Historic title research. When it comes to title research into the history of deeds, covenants, easements, filed maps, etc., it is often necessary to leave the computers behind and dive into the historic record books on file at the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office and Suffolk County Surrogate’s Court. We have experience in historic title searching and have handled many cases that turned on deeds and other historical documents dating back as far as the 17th century.
Preliminary Remedies. Real-property disputes are one of the rare types of litigation matters in which preliminary remedies are often granted, and, where appropriate, we take full advantage of those remedies:
Notice of Pendency. In a case where the outcome may affect the title, possession or use of real property, a Notice of Pendency (sometimes called a lis pendens) can be filed to put any potential purchasers or other potential interest-holders on notice of the action. Because of its chilling effect on potential sales, this powerful preliminary remedy can often exert significant leverage in a litigation.
Temporary restraining order and other injunctive relief. Because real property is understood by the courts to be unique and irreplaceable, it is often possible to obtain injunctive relief, compelling an adversary to do something or to refrain from doing something involving the property at issue. When we represent clients in real-property disputes where immediate injunctive relief is appropriate, we often seek a temporary restraining order at the outset of the case, which sets a strong tone for the action and can sometimes spur an early and favorable settlement.
Legal papers. The great majority of real-property disputes are decided by judges on the basis of the legal papers submitted—i.e., motion papers, affidavits and legal briefs or memoranda of law, in the lower courts or at the appellate level—and for that reason, good legal writing skills are critical to success. We take pride in distilling complex legal and factual issues into cogent, compelling and lively legal papers that even the busiest judge can grasp quickly and effortlessly, and we have won dozens of cases on the strength of our legal briefs.
Experts. Complex real-property disputes often merit the input of a variety of experts, for advice as consultants and/or for expert testimony. Over the past 15 years, we have developed close working relationships with the top substantive experts in fields pertinent to real-property disputes, and our practice is to engage them early in the litigation process. We have put a number of experts on the witness stand at trial, or, when they were hired by an adversary, we have effectively cross-examined them. The fields in which we regularly draw on expert assistance include:
- Land surveying and planning
- Environmental science, including wetlands science
- Geology and coastal geology
- Real property appraisal
- Photogrammetry (the science of the interpretation of aerial photography)
- Real-property title searching and issues
- Landscaping and horticulture
Trial skills. Sometimes there is no way to resolve a matter short of taking it to trial. We approach every case with a view toward trial, and our trial preparation begins from day one. My trial experience encompasses numerous jury and non-jury trials in State and Federal court, many of which we have “first-chaired”—i.e., handled as lead trial counsel.
Declining litigation. We believe that one of the most important skills a litigator can have is knowing when litigation is not appropriate, and we have no hesitation in declining cases if some weakness makes victory unlikely or if the ultimate return will not merit the time and costs of the litigation process. Before appearing for a litigant in any matter, we take the time to discuss the litigation scenarios, risks, costs and process thoroughly with the client to ensure that all avenues of approach are considered and the client makes a knowing and fully informed decision about how to proceed.
Disputes between sellers and purchasers of real property
Disputes between neighboring and nearby property owners
Disputes between property owners and municipalities or other government agencies
Disputes between family members or between other groups of people who own property together
Disputes between property owners and their contractors and service providers
Other types of real property matters