Saturday, May 16, 2015

East Hampton Billionaire Homeowners Under Attack As New Rules Threaten To Restrict Their Noisy Helicopter Commutes To Work Into Manhattan To Once A Week; 'High Fliers' May Now Be Relegated To Using Seaplanes Or, Worse, Limo Service, Subject To Traffic Jams

In East Hampton, Long Island, the The Real Deal (NYC) reports:
  • Manhattanites, accustomed to making their commute to the Hamptons by helicopter, make a “desperate plea” this week to stop changes to the East Hampton Airport.

    The group asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent restrictions that would limit helicopters to one flight a week to or from the East Hampton Airport, according to the New York Post. The new rules come after a three-year campaign by neighbors angered by the nonstop noise.

    And according to the Post, the changes would have the biggest effect on billionaire Ira Rennert, who owns a 19-seat Sikorsky S-92 and a 12-seat Sikorsky S-76. Other frequent fliers that would be inconvenienced by the changed rules include Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, art dealer Larry Gagosian and Jets owner Woody Johnson.

    “Rennert runs them both as a shuttle, back and forth every day,” Frank Dalene, head of Quiet Skies Coalition, said. And the new rules would, of course, mean more car traffic.

    It will be like ‘Apocalypse Now,’” a Hamptonite told the Post. “But it’s not the end of the world. Seaplanes can still land in East Hampton. Everybody will be taken care of. It’s rich people’s problems.”
Source: New helicopter rules have Hamptons billionaires sweating (The changes would limit East Hampton-bound helicopters to one flight a week).

See also, New York Post: Rich Hamptonites annoyed by helicopter cutbacks.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Federal Appeals Court: Bill Collection Racket Where Ohio AG's Office Authorized Private Attorneys To Use Its Letterhead To Scare People Into Paying Debts Owed To The State Violates FDCPA

From Public Citizen's Consumer Law & Policy Blog:
  • The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion [last] Friday holding that private attorneys under contract with the Ohio attorney general’s office to collect debts owed to the state improperly used the office’s letterhead to scare debtors into paying. The court held that use of the letterhead of the Ohio attorney general’s office was a “false, deceptive or misleading” communication in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692e.

    With one judge on the three-judge panel dissenting, the court vacated a district court’s decision for the debt collector and the attorney general’s office, which had appeared in the case as an intervenor on the side of the defendant.(1)
Source: Appellate court holds that debt collector's use of Ohio attorney general's letterhead violated FDCPA.

See also: The Associated Press (via The Columbus Dispatch): Court faults Columbus debt collectors’ use of official DeWine letterhead.

For the ruling, see Gillie v. Law Office of Eric A. Jones, LLC, No. 14-3836 (6th Cir. May 8, 2015).

(1) From the court ruling:
  • The Attorney General intervened on behalf of Defendants, asserting that the alleged misrepresentation—consisting of sending debt-collection notices on the Attorney General’s letterhead—was not a misrepresentation at all and was, in fact, authorized by the Attorney General.


    Intimidation is at the heart of this case. There is no compelling reason for special counsel to use the OAG letterhead, other than to misrepresent their authority and place pressure on those individuals receiving the letters. [...] The Attorney General insists that any sense of urgency (i.e. intimidation) that is created by the letters is permissible because the State has special authority that a regular creditor does not. This putative authority is not cited in any brief.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Shoddy Construction A Continuing Problem For Some Newly-Minted NYC Condos?

In Brooklyn, New York, The Real Deal (NYC) reports:
  • While developers are swiftly breaking ground on new projects all over Brooklyn and taking advantage of high property values, the quality of their buildings might be suffering. As more residents move into the newly built construction, some worry that mistakes from the last housing boom — shoddy construction, bringing substandard product to the market — are being repeated, according to the New York Times.

    “My phone is ringing already on projects that were just completed,” Steven Sladkus, a real estate lawyer who does construction defects cases, told the newspaper. “Uh-oh, here we go again.” While the recession caused many untested developers to abandon projects — leaving more seasoned developers in charge to finish those buildings — they’re now back with new plans, the newspaper reported.

    “It’s like the developers did not learn their lessons,” real estate lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey told the newspaper. He added that he has seen an uptick in complaints from residents of new construction.

    One such example in Brooklyn is 500 Fourth Avenue, a 156-unit condominium, completed in 2010 and developed by Itzhak Katan — who is behind nine projects in Brooklyn — and four members of the Matrisciani family. In July 2013, according to the Times, concrete fell from the building’s facade and balconies due to cracks. As a result, the Department of Buildings prohibited residents from stepping foot on their balconies.

    Katan is being sued at two of his Brooklyn developments, the Crest and Park Slope Views, according to the Times. At Novo, a project Katan developed together with Shaya Boymelgreen, construction defects were reported, according to the newspaper. Boymelgreen has also been sued for construction defects in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. The attorney general is currently investigating Boymelgreen for problems at his condo conversion at 15 Broad Street in the Financial District.
Source: As Brooklyn booms, construction defects spike (Some fear mistakes from the last housing boom are being repeated).

See also, The New York Times: New, but Far From Perfect (Construction Defects Follow a Brooklyn Building Boom).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Condo Owners In Swanky, Multi-Million Dollar Park Avenue Apartment Building Say Developer-Installed, Faulty Insulation Has Led To Mold Invasion

In New York City, the New York Daily News (via The Real Deal - NYC) reports:
  • There’s no better way to ruin a Park Ave. palace than with hoards of pesky mold.

    Wealthy residents of an uber luxe condo building along Park Ave.’s gold coast have filed suit against its developer, claiming the company installed improper insulation resulting in the growth of mold throughout the property.

    The well-heeled owners at 823 Park Ave. say that developer Elliot Joseph’s Property Markets Group, a major New York City real estate player who converted the building from rentals in 2005, has long been aware of the mold and has done nothing to fix it, despite their pleas.

    Joseph even went so far as to falsely tell owners that he was making plans to rectify the issue in an effort to stave off a lawsuit, they claim. In face, “he had no intention of doing so,” they said in the complaint, filed Monday in State Supreme Court.

    The owners want a minimum of $2.5 million in damages.

    The building's sponsor denied the claims, telling the Daily News that the mold was caused by lack of maintenance.

    “The facts will show that the building was completed long ago in 2007, and that any current problems were caused by a lack of maintenance," the company said in a statement. " The sponsor built 823 Park using the highest quality materials which were installed by the highest quality contractors who were supervised by the highest quality professionals, and the recent problems alleged have not occurred as the result of defective construction.”

    The swanky building, which initially drew waves of high-profile finance types and even former New York Rangers star Brendan Shanahan, commanded top dollar during the last real estate boom, with the penthouse selling for a whopping $30.5 million in 2008.

    More recently, industry insiders wondered why owners looking to resell their properties struggled to make decent returns on their investments, despite the building’s great location.

    Perhaps the mold has been the culprit, all along.
Source: PMG accused of mold problems at tony UES condo building (In lawsuit, owners of units at 823 Park claim developer neglected their complaints).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Florida Property Owner Coughs Up $235K+ In Back Taxes, Interest, Penalties After Getting Bagged By Local Real Estate Taxing Authorities For Fraudulent Homestead Exemption Claim On Rental Property

In Sarasota, Florida, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reports:
  • A Siesta Key investor, who had fraudulently claimed a homestead tax break on rental property, has paid more than $235,000 to satisfy government liens.

    It was the largest lien for homestead exemption fraud ever processed by the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office, the agency said Friday.

    The lien was accumulated from 2003 through 2010, filed after officials learned the Siesta Key property was being rented out, which violated Florida statutes that only allow for homestead exemptions on primary residences, not investment property.

    The Property Appraiser’s Office said Friday it recovered the improperly exempted taxes, as well as a penalty of 50 percent and interest of 15 percent for each year dating back up to a decade.

    Since 1991, the Property Appraiser’s Office has recovered $5.1 million toward the tax rolls from going after homestead fraud.

    But the agency recently further stepped up those efforts, hiring an independent research firm to crack down on homestead exemption fraud in 2014.

    With the move, Sarasota County became the first in Florida to hire Charlotte, North Carolina-based Tax Management Associates to audit its property rolls and find tax evaders. The property appraiser historically relied on complaints from residents to catch homestead fraud.

    The homestead exemption gives Florida homeowners a break on the property taxes levied against a house’s first $50,000 in value if it is used as a primary residence. Some additional discounts are offered to military veterans, seniors and homeowners with disabilities.

    Following the Great Recession, officials say the number of area residents fraudulently claiming the break has exploded.

    “It is my mission to provide residents of the county with a fair, accurate and equitable tax roll,” Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst said in a statement. “To that end, my office is working on implementing additional tools to help us identify and investigate exemption fraud in Sarasota County on a large scale.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

S. California Entrepreneur Pinched For Allegedly Lying To Bankster To Score Fraudulent Short Sale; Conveniently Failed To Disclose He Just Sold His Business For $7.5M+ Prior To Seeking OK To Unload Underwater Home For Less Than Mortgage Debt, Leading To $586K Lender Hit: DA

From the Office of the Orange County, California District Attorney:
  • The former co-owner of the clothing brand RVCA is scheduled to be arraigned [] for committing short-sale fraud of his home and causing a total loss of over $500,000 to the lender.

    Conan Hayes, 40, Topanga, is charged with one felony count of grand theft with a sentencing enhancement allegation for property loss over $200,000. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of five years in jail. He is out of custody on $586,245 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, May 4, 2015, at 8:30 a.m. in Department C-55, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.

    Hayes was co-owner of the surf clothing brand RVCA and sold his interest in the company for over $7.5 million in July 2010. In October 2010, Hayes is accused of applying for a short sale of his home with his lender, Bank of America.

    Short sales are a hardship based program offered by mortgage lenders to assist distressed homeowners who have suffered a financial hardship. If a property is sold pursuant to a short sale, the buyer avoids foreclosure and the lender agrees to settle the homeowner’s debt for the amount of the sale.

    In March 2011, Hayes is accused of obtaining short sale approval from Bank of America by falsely claiming that he lost his position at work and was currently unemployed. He is accused of failing to inform the bank he had sold his business for over $7.5 million, causing $586,245 in property loss to the bank as a result of the fraudulent short sale.

    Deputy District Attorney Megan Wagner of the Major Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case. .

Sunday, May 10, 2015

91-Year Old Ex-Opera Singer Gets To Go Home, Scores Release From 'Involuntary Detention' In Nursing Home By Defying Order & Serenading Judge In Open Court; Daughter & Attorney Say Sneaky Landlord/Developer Made Anonymous Complaint To City Social Service Agency In Push To Have Senior Granny-Snatched Out Of Her Rent-Controlled Pad Where She's Lived Since 1960

In New York City (where else???), the New York Post reports:
  • She got her home back for a song.

    A 91-year-old former Broadway singer who was declared incompetent and tossed into a nursing home was returned to her Greenwich Village apartment — after wowing a Manhattan judge with her vocal talents.

    Elderly songstress Ruth Berk sang the show tunes “Summertime” and “My Funny Valentine” to help convince Justice Tanya Kennedy that she was still fit to live there.

    At her hearing, “although the justice refused to allow her to speak, [Berk] interrupted the court and told the court that she wanted to go home. She then began to sing for Justice Kennedy,” her lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, recounted in court papers.

    Berk’s daughter, Jessica, said the judge was stunned at the impromptu performance last summer by her mom, whom she called “a cross between Bea Arthur and Elizabeth Taylor” in her younger years.

    [The judge] stepped off the bench, took [her] robe off and shook her hand and said, ‘Mrs. Berk, that was wonderful. Thank you very much for honoring me with that,’ ” Jessica, 55, told The Post.

    Ruth was finally returned to her home, where she has lived since 1960, earlier this year. But she may still have to update her repertoire with a selection from “Rent,’’ her camp said.

    Landlord and real estate developer Lloyd Goldman has filed an eviction notice to try to boot Berk and her daughter from their rent-stabilized, $700-a-month penthouse. Goldman’s lawyer, Lawrence Wolf, told The Post that Ruth and Jessica — who also resides in the two-bedroom pad at 95 Christopher St. — owe $27,000 in back rent.

    Ruth’s lawyer and guardian, Arthur Schwartz, said the pair aren’t current on their payments because the rent-stabilized unit — in a building where apartments go for $7,000 a month — is like a “slum” with multiple violations. He added that the building owner has brought 21 unsuccessful landlord-tenant actions over the past 20 years.

    Jessica Berk said she believes that their landlord made the anonymous complaint to Adult Protective Services that landed her mom in a nursing home as part of his push to get them out of the cheap pad. “Who else would have a motive to get rid of my mother?” Jessica reasoned.

    The landlord’s lawyer said his client did not make the 2012 call but acknowledged providing Kennedy with information for the case. Berk will be back in front of Kennedy in June for the eviction trial.
Source: 91-year-old sings for judge, gets to leave nursing home (Ruth Berk is back in her Greenwich Village apartment thanks to an impromptu courtroom singing performance).


See also, WestView News (The Voice of the West Village): Ruth Berk Must Be Freed! - where Ruth's lawyer and new guardian Arthur Schwartz writes this excerpt of a longer story:
  • [R]uth Berk was a fabulous opera singer, who, with her husband, opened the Waverly Lounge in the Hotel Earl on Washington Square North, where she entertained as a cabaret singer.

    But by 2013, to the landlord at 95 Christopher Street, she was a rent-controlled tenant living in a 2-bedroom worth a lot of money on the open market. So he called Adult Protective Services (APS) and alleged that Ruth was being abused by Jessica. Next thing you know APS arrives, with the police, guns drawn, to interview Ruth.(1)

    They find a messy, cluttered apartment and a 92-year- old woman scared out of her wits, and they run to a judge seeking to have a guardian. The agency appointed as guardian pulled Ruth out of her home and shipped her off to DeWitt [Nursing Home], where she exists in a room with two other non-ambulatory people who wear diapers and are frequently sick with illnesses that could kill a horse.

    The guardian, an entity called “Self Help,” convinced Justice Tanya Kennedy that Ruth Berk was incompetent and didn’t understand that her visits from her daughter were “harmful,” and had Jessica Berk and her domestic partner barred from visiting Ruth in DeWitt.
(1) Go here for other horror stories on the use of the guardianship process to 'kidnap, hijack, granny-snatch' (call it what you want) the elderly, infirm and vulnerable, usually as part of a money grab by relatives, government agencies, and other assorted lowlifes seeking an easy payday. granny-snatching guardianship