Articles Tagged with Co-Ops and Condos

On April 28, 2016, Justice Robert R. Reed’s decision in Chase et al. v. 360 General Contracting, (Supreme Court, County of New York Index No. 152275/2016) dismissed and vacated two separate mechanic’s liens filed against a cooperative unit. In doing so, Justice Reed clarified two issues with respect to cooperative units and the Lien Law.

First, Justice Reed’s decision in Chase clarified that for purposes of the Lien Law, cooperative apartments are considered single family dwellings subject to the four month filing requirement. In Chase, a mechanic’s lien was filed five months after the last day that work, labor and services were performed in connection with the construction of an individual unit within a cooperative building.  Justice Reed, noting that previous courts applied the four month filing period to individual cooperative apartments (as opposed to the eight month filing period for commercial projects), also applied the four month filing period in Chase. He held that under Lien Law §10(1), the four month filing period applied to individual cooperative apartments, so long as the work is done by mechanics solely on the individual unit, and not to common areas of the building as a whole. Accordingly, the mechanic’s lien filed against the individual cooperative unit beyond the four year filing period was vacated and dismissed.

Second, Justice Reed’s decision in Chase clarified that under the Lien Law, a mechanic’s lien filed against a cooperative unit must name the cooperative corporation as the owner of the real property. In Chase, Justice Reed dismissed a second mechanic’s lien, which, although filed within the four month period, incorrectly named the proprietary leaseholders as the owners of the real property. Justice Reed indicated that even though leaseholders are not immune from the requirements of the Lien Law, it is improper and erroneous to identify such leaseholders as owners of the real property with respect to that location. Individuals are merely leaseholders of units and the real property is owned by a separate corporation. Accordingly, because the failure to name the cooperative corporation as the real property owner constitutes a total misidentification of the property owner, the second mechanic’s lien was vacated and dismissed. It is insufficient to merely list the leaseholders as owners of a cooperative unit in a mechanic’s lien.

Can a cooperative apartment owner claim to be “ready, willing and able” to close where the board of directors of the cooperative has threatened to try to reclaim exclusive rights to penthouse terrace access that the buyer bargained for?  According to the First Department, the answer may well be “No” in the absence of “unequivocal assurances” from a meddling board.

In Pastor v. DeGaetano, et al., 128 A.D.3d 218 (1st Dep’t 2015), the defendant, an estate owner of a luxury penthouse apartment (the “Seller”), sought summary judgment dismissing the complaint seeking the return of the plaintiff’s (the “Buyer”) $2.75 million deposit.  The factual record shows that, despite the Seller’s 50 years of exclusive access to the penthouse terrace and the existence of a proprietary lease clearly spelling out such exclusive use, the cooperative board (the “Board”) sent a letter to the prospective buyer advising that the upper roof of the building was common property available to all unit owners.  Since the upper roof was only accessible by walking across the penthouse terrace, the letter amounted to a notification that the terrace would no longer be exclusive to the Buyer.  After the Board unsuccessfully attempted to get the Buyer and Seller to execute an agreement confirming the same rooftop access right, the Seller commenced a declaratory judgment action against the Board seeking a declaration that the Seller, and the prospective Buyer, had exclusive rights to the terrace.  This action was subsequently settled without the issuance of the requested declaration.  The Buyer was not satisfied with this conclusion and attempted to cancel the contract and regain his deposit.  When the Seller instead set a closing date, the Buyer refused to close and commenced the lawsuit at issue.  The Seller then moved for summary judgment and the trial grant granted the motion, holding that the Seller had proven that it was “ready, willing and able” close.

The First Department, however, disagreed.

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The First Department has reversed a trial court ruling dismissing a third-party action where an architect claimed that a contractual indemnification clause in its agreement with the sponsor of a condominium development was of no consequence.

In Board of Managers of Hester Gardens v. Well-Come Holdings, LLC, 128 A.D.3d 601, 10 N.Y.S.3d 72 (1st Dep’t 2015), the First Department considered a lower court dismissal of a third-party complaint brought by the sponsor of a condominium development (the “Sponsor”) against, among others, the architect retained by the Sponsor to design the development and inspect the on-going construction (the “Architect”). The Sponsor had already been sued by the Board of Managers of the development (the “Board”) for numerous alleged defects in the design and construction of the development. As is typically the case, many of the claims of the Board sounded in negligence and fraud due to the alleged failure of the development to conform to the statements and plans published in the offering documents and other advertising materials. The Architect was also sued by the Board, but successfully obtained dismissal of the claims against it because there was no contract between itself and the Board (or any of the individual unit owners).

After the Architect was dismissed from the main action for lack of privity, the Sponsor brought a third-party action against the Architect (and others) alleging that, under the relevant contract, the Architect was liable to indemnify the Sponsor for the Architect’s own “intentional acts, errors and omissions” and breaches of the contract. The Architect moved, pre-answer, to dismiss the third-party complaint, alleging, among other things that, due to the nature of the primary claims against the Sponsor, i.e, negligence and fraud, the third-party action actually sought indemnification from the Architect for the Sponsor’s own bad acts.

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