Real Estate Litigation


In the field of real estate litigation, the highest status a lawyer can achieve is to be known as “a lawyer’s lawyer”. This status is reached when lesser-experienced attorneys cannot handle their difficult cases and have to transfer them to the most experienced lawyers. Because I have 46 years of experience in real estate litigation and teach other lawyers “How to conduct trails in New York”, I am honored to be called “a lawyer’s lawyer.”

All lawyers make claims about their expertise and it is difficult for clients to verify these claims. But my background can be easily verified through access to the New York Courts e-filing program and prospective clients are welcome to access this system. In a very recent case (Vamvakas v. Northwoods Landing, Queens County Supreme Court, Index No. 710531/2019), I represented Northwoods Homeowners Association where 10 out of the 11 owners were of Chinese descent. The adjoining property owners were of Greek descent and they wanted to come upon the Homeowners Association land and use their water and electrical systems in order to make repairs or improvements to their own property. In certain circumstances, New York City law under RPAPL Section §881 allows owners to go upon other homeowner’s property in order to make repairs and improvements. When the Homeowners Association refused access, the Greek owners sued and also claimed discrimination based on national origin.

On May 26, 2020, Justice Leverett of the Supreme Court, Queens County, denied the Greek owners access and dismissed their case.

Even for highly-experienced lawyers, these are very exciting times in the field of real estate litigation. Within the past several weeks, an attorney referred a complex case to me involving breach of a real estate buy-sell contract. His client had entered into a contract to sell a Manhattan building for $3.4 million dollars. One of the conditions in the contract obligated the seller, prior to closing, to file rent registrations with a New York City agency and to remove any violations of record against the building in that agency. There was a 60-day “time of the essence” closing date. But, because of Covid-19, the agency building was closed and the seller was prevented from complying with the conditions.

As a result of the pandemic and declining real estate values, the buyer suddenly realized that he was paying too much for the building so he wanted to cancel the deal and recover his $340,000 down payment. He claimed that the seller had breached the contract by not satisfying the conditions. But, representing the seller, I claimed that the contract was still valid and that a closing should take place – despite the fact that the 60-dya closing date was not met. Who is right? A decision will not be made for about six months.

This case is exciting because the pandemic is forcing courts to consider doctrines and issues include (1) an Act of God, (2) impossibility of performance, (3) excuse of performance, and (4) force majeure. Many lawyers are unfamiliar with these doctrines so a client choosing a lawyer for a real estate litigation should investigate the lawyer’s background and expertise. And the best choice should include consideration of retaining “a lawyer’s lawyer.”