IMG_0713At its November 17, 2016 meeting, the East Hampton Town Board (Town Board) unanimously adopted a local law that temporarily suspends the authority of the East Hampton Town Planning Board to grant certain site plan and subdivision approvals for properties located on or adjacent to Montauk Highway in Wainscott. The moratorium applies to non-residential Central Business or Commercial Industrial zoning districts or properties in residential zoning districts used for non-residential uses. The moratorium lasts for one year.

Purpose of Moratorium

The purpose of the moratorium is to allow the Town to complete its Wainscott Hamlet Study and to implement recommendations from that study. The Wainscott Hamlet Study will evaluate future commercial needs of the community in accordance with the goals set forth in the Town’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan.

According to the local law, Wainscott, as the entry point into the Town, experiences extremely high traffic volumes. In particular, traffic jams along Montauk Highway are causing impacts to residential neighborhoods, as motorists seek alternate routes through the area. The Town claims that development of commercial property along Montauk Highway in Wainscott will exacerbate the traffic logjams and increase risks to pedestrians.

The Town anticipates that the study will recommend the creation of a walkable hamlet center, rather than the current sprawl of commercial sites along Montauk Highway. The Town is concerned that without the moratorium, any traffic mitigation and pedestrian safety recommendations arising from the study will not be implementable if development continues unabated in the interim.

Exemptions

The local law contains exemptions. If a site plan or subdivision application has undergone a public hearing and has been approved prior to the effective date of the moratorium, the project can proceed.  In addition, the local law contains an undue hardship exemption. In order to qualify for the undue hardship exemption, the applicant has to demonstrate to the Town Board that (1) the failure to grant the exemption will cause the applicant undue hardship that is substantially greater than the harm to the general public by granting the exemption, (2) the proposal will not have adverse effects on the Town’s goals, and (3) the proposal is in harmony with the existing character of the Town.

It will be interesting to see what recommendations emanate from the study and which ones the Town ultimately implements.

land bankAlthough the use of land banks has been in existence for many years in other states, it was not until after the New York real estate market collapsed in or around 2008  that the New York State Legislature enacted the 2011 New York State Land Bank Act (“Land Bank Act”). 

The Land Bank Act authorizes local governments with taxing authority, and thus foreclosure powers,  to create and administer not-for-profit land bank corporations, whose primary purpose is to purchase, lease, sell, demolish and/or  revitalize blighted properties,  otherwise known as “zombie properties,” in an effort to return these properties to a profitable and purposeful  use.   

There are presently fifteen land banks across New York State, with three additional land banks in the works.  Suffolk County formed one of the first land banks, known as the Suffolk County Land Bank Corporation (‘SCLBC’), in 2013.   The initial primary purpose of the SCLBC was to purchase brownfields properties.  In 2016, however, the SCLBC announced that it is entering a pilot program designed to purchase approximately eleven zombie homes in the Brookhaven, Islip and Babylon areas.  The Nassau County Land Bank Corporation advises that it will focus on purchasing some 1,956 blighted residential and zombie properties throughout Nassau County.

In October 2016, the New York State Comptroller’s Office issued a 22-page summary defining the purpose of the Land Bank Act, while also providing a candid discussion of the monetary pitfalls facing land banks. The summary questioned whether land banks will be effective in not only combating blight and providing necessary revitalization, but also in securing the funds necessary to foster their longevity. 

Presently, land banks are primarily funded by subsidies and grants.  As the cost of purchasing, carrying, demolishing and/or renovating blighted properties can be extraordinarily high, without tax abatements or partnerships with local and state governments, land banks are not generating sufficient profits to reinvest in other blighted properties.   The consequence is that the process of redevelopment is  slow moving and uncertain. 

Contrary to the New York State Comptroller’s October 2016 summary,  on November 1, 2016, the New York State Attorney General’s Office issued a 26-page report entitled “Revitalizing NY State, A report on New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative”  (“AG Initiative”).  The AG Initiative states that the Initiative “is helping communities across New York State address vacancy and blight . . . [and] is advancing efforts to rebound from the housing and economic crisis.”  Id.

The AG Initiative further reports that “[o]ver the past three years, my office has committed more than $30 million through two competitive rounds of funding to help kick-start these vital community-based organizations, enabling them to get down to the business of rebuilding communities.”  Id.  The first competitive rounds of funding arose from a financial settlement with large banks involved in the mortgage crisis known as the “National Mortgage Settlement.” See  New York State Comptroller’s Office Report, October 2016, supra.  

According to the AG Initiative, as a result of recent settlements with two more banks, an additional $20 million is expected to be available shortly for distribution to the existing land banks.  Id.

For the time being, although land banks rely primarily on funds provided from settlements between the New York State Attorney General’s Office and banks, land banks remain in a tenuous financial predicament.  The future success of these land banks relies heavily on their ability to increase grant availability  and to find inventive ways to turn a profit more quickly.

 

We recently came across an interesting decision from a federal appeals court involving a town’s rescission of a 25-year-old negative declaration issued under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).  A “negative declaration” is a written determination by a lead agency that a proposed action will not result in significant adverse environmental impacts. Because of the convoluted history of the matter as it wound its way through both state and federal courts, we think you may find it interesting as well.

In Leonard, et al, v. Planning Board of the Town of Union Vale, __F.3d __ (2d Cir. September 2, 2016), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2012 rescission of a 1987 negative declaration was not a final determination, requiring the applicant to complete the SEQRA review process before resorting to court.    Here’s the history.

The Planning Board Decision

In 1986, plaintiffs applied to have their 950-acre property, located in the Town of Union Vale in Dutchess County, designated as an “open development area” under Town Law § 280-a(4).  Town of Union ValeThe application was granted by the Town, which permitted the site to be subdivided into private lots with private roads.  In 1987, the Planning Board of the Town of Union Vale (Planning Board) issued a negative declaration with respect to the entire project.   The first section of the project was approved in 1987 and was developed with large single-family homes.  In 2009, plaintiffs applied for a subdivision of the next section.  Changes to the layout required by the Planning Board for this second phase would cause significantly more ground being disturbed than was initially planned.  In 2012, the Planning Board determined that the application was incomplete and decided a new SEQRA review was required because the 1987 negative declaration did not apply to the current application.

Plaintiffs Challenge The Planning Board’s Determination

Plaintiffs sued the Planning Board in state court in 2012, challenging the incompleteness determination. The state trial and appellate courts determined that the 2012 Planning Board incompleteness resolution was improper and annulled it. The courts further ruled that the Planning Board must consider the 2012 application on the basis of the 1987 negative declaration unless the Planning Board determines that the 1987 negative declaration should be amended or rescinded.  The Planning Board held a public hearing in June 2013.  It thereafter adopted a resolution rescinding the 1987 negative declaration on the grounds that the project, and the applicable regulations, had undergone substantial changes since 1987; and the project may result in significant adverse environmental impacts.  According to plaintiffs, no specifics about any such impacts were contained in the resolution.

Not surprisingly, plaintiffs sued again. In 2013, plaintiffs commenced another action in state court, alleging federal due process violations and state law violations. The defendants removed the case to the federal district court, which remanded the state claims back to the state court and dismissed the federal due process claims on the grounds that plaintiffs did not have a property right in the negative declaration. See Leonard et al., v. The Planning Board of the Town of Union Vale, 154 F.Supp.3d 59, 67-68 (SDNY 2016).

Plaintiffs appealed the federal district court’s dismissal of the federal due process claims.  Following the United States Supreme Court ruling in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City,  473 US 172 (1985), and the Second Circuit’s prior rulings  in Southview Associates,  Ltd., v. Bongartz, 980 F.2d 84 (2d Cir. 1992) and Kurtz v. Verizon New York, Inc., 758 F.3d 506 (2d Cir. 2014), the Second Circuit ruled that before plaintiffs can bring a federal due process challenge to a local land-use claim, the local agency must render a “final decision.”

The Second Circuit found the negative declaration rescission was not a final decision because plaintiffs’ application was still pending before the Planning Board, and the Town still needed to complete the project’s SEQRA review.  The Second Circuit noted that in rare exceptional cases, the finality requirement can be excused.  This requires a showing that the Planning Board already made up its mind and that further proceedings before the Planning Board were futile or that the board used unfair tactics to delay the approval process.  In this case, the Second Circuit found these futility criteria missing.  It also noted that the mere fact that plaintiffs would incur expenses to go through the SEQRA process was not a basis for finding futility.    See Leonard, et al, v. Planning Board of the Town of Union Vale, __F.3d __ (2d Cir. September 2, 2016).

In October 2015, the state court dismissed the remanded state claims, finding that the Planning Board’s rescission was not arbitrary or capricious and did not violate law. That decision is on appeal to the state appellate court.

The Outcome

Plaintiffs incurred a lot of legal fees and spent more than three years challenging the 2012 rescission in both federal and state courts and wound up back where they started – before the Planning Board going through the SEQRA process.

Canoe Place Inn, Hampton Bays
Canoe Place Inn, Hampton Bays, photo credit: www.27east.com

The Town of Southampton re-zoned three properties located in Hampton Bays adjacent or close to the Shinnecock Canal by amending the Town’s Zoning Code to add section 330-248(V), creating the Canoe Place Inn, Canal and Eastern District Maritime Planned Development District. This local law, adopted on January 13, 2015, provides for the rehabilitation of the Canoe Place Inn for use as an inn, catering facility, and restaurant. The law also provides for the development of a 37-unit luxury, waterfront town-house community and associated wastewater treatment facility on the Shinnecock Canal.   Four individual property owners/taxpayers formed an unincorporated community group called Shinnecock Neighbors to oppose the zoning changes and to challenge the local law via a hybrid Article 78 proceeding and declaratory action. In the case, entitled Shinnecock Neighbors, et al. v. Town of Southampton, R Squared Development LLC et al., 3 NYS3d 679 [Sup. Ct. Suffolk Co. 2016], the Shinnecock Neighbors allege, in part, that the local law should be deemed null and void because the Town Board failed to comply with the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and take the requisite hard look at the potential environmental impacts of the proposed development. Several of the respondents moved to dismiss the petition and complaint on the grounds that the petitioners lacked standing. In an order dated August 30, 2016, the Hon. William B. Rebolini, Justice of the Supreme Court, Suffolk County, dismissed the motion and held that the four petitioners and their unincorporated community group, Shinnecock Neighbors, had the requisite standing to bring the proceeding/action.

As noted in the decision, in order to establish standing in a land use matter, a party “must suffer direct harm (i.e., injury-in-fact) that is in some way different from that of the public at large and, further, that the claimed harm is within the zone of interests protected by the statute or statutes alleged to have been violated.” Shinnecock Neighbors v. Town of Southampton, 3 NYS3d at 683. An organization or association such as Shinnecock Neighbors has standing when one or more of its members has standing to sue, the association demonstrates that the interests it asserts are germane to its purpose, and it is evident that neither the asserted claim nor relief requires the participation of its individual members. (See Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. v. County of Suffolk, 77 NY2d 761, 570 NYS2d 778 [1991]; Matter of Dental Society of State of NY v. Carey, 61 NY2d 330, 474 NYS2d 262 [1984]).

Three of the four individual petitioners owned residential properties within 500 feet of the proposed wastewater treatment facility. As a result, the Court found that these three individuals had standing and stated, “[a]s it is alleged that each of them resides in close proximity to the proposed development, there arises a presumption that each will be adversely affected in a manner different from the public at large.” Shinnecock Neighbors v. Town of Southampton, 3 NYS3d at 684. Additionally, the Court found that their allegations of harm, including increased traffic, increased noise and air pollution, and degradation of the community from the proximity of the wastewater treatment facility were within the zone of interests protected by SEQRA and the Town’s zoning code. Id. at 684.

Interestingly, the fourth individually-named petitioner asserted a different rationale for standing. Although this petitioner lived about one mile from the canal and was not within the zone of interests protected by the statute, she claimed to be an environmental activist, professional artist and “art activist” who required access to the canal as it was a significant source of her creative inspiration and that the proposed development would have a profound negative effect on her work. The Court found that this fourth petitioner had standing and stated: “…her use and enjoyment of the area is more intense than that of the general public and, therefore, that she may be directly harmed in a way different in kind and degree from others…like claims of specific environmental injury, injury to a petitioner’s aesthetic and environmental well-being, activities, pastimes or desire to use and observe natural resources may also be found to state cognizable interests for purposes of standing.” Id. at 684. As each of the four petitioners had standing, the Court determined that the Shinnecock Neighbors also had the requisite standing. The underlying proceeding/action is still pending before the Court.

Back on September 6, 2016, this blog commented on the case of Matter of Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Inc. v Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission, 138 AD3d 996 [2d Dept 2016]. In that case, none of the individual petitioners lived within the zone of interests. Nevertheless, the Appellate Division found that the Society had standing because one of the petitioners, the Society’s Executive Director, used and enjoyed the Pine Barrens to a greater degree than most members of the public. Thus, based on the holdings in the Shinnecock Neighbors v. Town of Southampton and Matter of Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Inc. v Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission cases, an organization may have standing even though all its members reside outside the zone of protected interests if at least one member can articulate a rationale that shows he or she has an interest that is different from the general public, and that interest may be adversely impacted by the proposed action.

 

Complete Streets refers to roadway design aimed at ensuring safe and convenient access for all users, whether on foot, on a bicycle, in vehicles, or using other transit modes. Long Island Complete StreetsHere on Long Island, roadway design has primarily focused on one mode of transportation – the automobile. But that is changing. Now, roadways are looked at as more than merely motor parkways. They are viewed as economic drivers, health promoters, and environmental enhancers. All it takes is a little planning and the desire to make positive changes that benefit all segments of the community.

The New York State Complete Streets Act

New York State officially got into the Complete Streets game in August 2011, when the Governor signed into law the Complete Streets Act (CSA). This statute requires state, county, and local agencies to consider safety, access, convenience and mobility in transportation projects that are state and federally funded.  The CSA includes Complete Streets design features that allow the roadways to be shared. These features make sense and run the gamut from installing appropriate road signage, constructing crosswalks with pedestrian control signals, constructing bicycle lanes and bus pull outs and implementing traffic calming measures.

In response to the CSA, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) developed a series of policies and guidance for Complete Streets. These include:

  • a bicycle/pedestrian policy aimed at increasing these modes of transportation in a safe manner and to promote transit-oriented development
  • a traffic calming policy aimed at reducing the negative impacts of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior and improve conditions for walkers and bicyclists
  • a highway design manual that contains technical design guidance based upon federally-approved design practices
  • a regional NYSDOT bicycle/pedestrian coordinator to help communities promote programs to increase walking and cycling

Suffolk County’s Complete Streets Policy

In 2012, Suffolk County established a Complete Streets policy. This policy recognizes that walking and bicycling are important modes of transportation and recreation and promote health, fitness, and economic development. The policy requires the Suffolk County Department of Public Works to evaluate the feasibility of Complete Streets design features at the planning stages of projects.

Town of Babylon’s Sustainable Complete Streets Policy

In July 2010, Babylon adopted its Sustainable Complete Streets Policy. This policy takes into consideration motor vehicle drivers, public transportation vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages and abilities in the design, construction and retrofitting of the Town’s roadways. The Town commissioned the development of a Master Plan for Sustainable Complete Streets, which will include best practices, such as median islands, narrower travel lanes, secure bike facilities, tree covers, streetscaping and lighting. It also calls for intermodal transit facilities that allow easy transfer between the modalities.

Village of Great Neck Plaza

In February 2012, Great Neck Plaza adopted its Complete Streets Policy Guide. Its stated purpose is to take “a well-balanced approach to transportation planning” and optimize “transportation accessibility and choices.” The Village’s policy seeks to address the needs of motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, disabled persons, elderly citizens, movers of commercial gods and users of public transportation in the planning, construction and retrofitting of streets, bridges and other aspects of the transportation network.   It sets forth specific design elements to be considered for its main roads, including:

  • specified lane widths
  • specified parking lanes
  • ADA-compliant sidewalks
  • landscaped medians
  • improved signage
  • textured crosswalks
  • bus shelters
  • porous pavement
  • bioswales
  • pedestrian-scale lighting
  • bicycle racks
  • parking meters
  • benches

Complete Streets policies are popping up across Long Island and promote safe and efficient roadway design. These policies will play a larger role in the governmental approval process in the future.

aid157119-728px-Install-Posts-in-the-Water-for-a-Dock-or-Pier-Step-1  In New York, as a general rule, the touchstone of riparian rights has been the ownership of land touching a navigable waterway. See Bromberg v. Morton 64 AD2d 684 [2d Dept 1978].  As a result, unless expressly reserved by deed, if a waterfront lot is partitioned, any resulting lot that no longer physically touches the water  becomes non-waterfront property and loses its riparian rights.  Durham v. Ingrassia, 105 Misc2d 191 [Sup Ct., Nassau County 1980].

However, there is a developing line of case law in the Second and Third Departments holding that an easement that provides access to a navigable waterway provides the beneficiary of the easement with the riparian right to construct a dock equal to that of the actual waterfront owner.  See Briggs v. Donna, 176 AD2d 1105 [3d Dept 1991].

In Briggs v. Donna, the Third Department held that although there is no language in any of the plaintiffs’ deeds expressly granting a right to construct a dock, the plaintiffs’ dock at the foot of an easement was a “reasonable use” of the easement and incidental to plaintiffs’ access rights under the easement.  In short, the easement holder, a non-waterfront landowner, possessed the same riparian rights as the actual waterfront landowner to build a dock to navigable water.

Relying on this reasoning, the Second Department, in Monohan v. Hampton Point, 264 AD2d 764 [2d Dept 1999], reinforced the position that riparian rights extend from an easement to access navigable water.  In that case, the court held that, as a matter of law, the easement to access the water was sufficient to create the riparian right of wharfing out, and the subject dock located at the end of an easement leading to a navigational portion of the waterway was a reasonable and incidental use of the easement.  See also, Hush v. Taylor 84 AD3d 1532 [3d Dept 2011] Installation of a dock at the end of an easement of this type “is a reasonable use incidental to the purpose of the easement” and is, therefore, permissible).

Under the right circumstances, Courts have reasoned that the existence of an easement to the water’s edge would have been “without purpose” if it did not provide for the construction of a dock or pier to provide access to the waterway.

As a result, this line of case law seems to remove the need for landowners to actually own waterfront land in order to exert their riparian right of access by a dock or pier. Instead, an easement running to the shoreline includes the right to construct a pier or dock to obtain access to navigable water.

Oklahoma-City-Vacant-House-BuyerThe Towns of Babylon and Hempstead have recently enacted legislation designed to combat the blight associated with “zombie” homes and other vacant and abandoned properties. Both laws create a registry and require the payment of fees to offset the costs associated with monitoring and inspecting properties that are required to register.

Town of Babylon

The Town of Babylon’s law, known as the “Mortgage-in-Default Registry” law, requires banks and other lenders to register with the Town within ten days after a home mortgage goes into default. The law, which is based on similar legislation enacted in Jacksonville, Florida, sets forth certain maintenance and security requirements for the property and requires lenders to inspect the property monthly while it is in default. Lenders are obligated to report each time a mortgage changes hands, and the new lender must register with the Town as well.

Under the new legislation, lenders are required to pay an annual registration fee of $200 per property to a company hired by the Town to manage the registry. Failure to register and pay the fee or to comply with the new law’s property maintenance and security requirements will subject first-time violators to a fine of $250 to $1,000 and up to 15 days in jail.

Town of Hempstead

The Town of Hempstead’s new registry law, known as the “Maintenance of Vacant Buildings” law, goes beyond the measure adopted in Babylon in that it applies to all vacant residential and commercial properties, regardless of whether they are in default or in the foreclosure process. The Town’s new law requires landlords to register with the Town within 30 days of a building becoming vacant, pay an annual fee to cover the Town’s administrative costs to maintain the registry, and monitor and inspect properties.

Hempstead’s annual fees start at $500 and increase each year by $500 until a maximum annual fee of $3,000 is reached. The registry fees are in addition to the $25,000-$35,000 deposit that lenders of properties in foreclosure must post under the Town’s anti-zombie legislation adopted in May.

Landlords are also required to submit a plan to either demolish the building, keep the property secured and properly maintained, or detail how the structure will be rehabilitated within a year.

According to Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, the new measure is not intended to be punitive, but rather is designed to create a financial incentive for landlords to get their vacant buildings occupied and back to productive use as soon as possible.

The measures adopted in Babylon and Hempstead are the latest attempts by Long Island municipalities to tackle the problems associated with vacant and abandoned properties. These laws come on the heels of New York State’s anti-zombie property legislation known as the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act of 2016 that was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in June, which, among other things, created a statewide registry of abandoned properties.

pumpkinsBeginning in 1974, Suffolk County enacted a series of laws, now codified as Chapter 8 of the Suffolk County Code, which sought to preserve agricultural lands. In exchange for paying an owner for the development rights of his/her farmland, the owner agreed to a covenant restricting the land to agricultural or open space. Between 1974 and 2010, more than 9,000 acres of farmland were preserved through this program.

In 2010, the County enacted Local Law 52-2010, which allowed the County to permit some development of these preserved properties, even though the owner previously had been paid taxpayer dollars to forego such development. Previously, absent a referendum of the electorate, there was an express prohibition against alienating the development rights that were preserved via this program. The 2010 amendment allowed special use permits and hardship exemptions to be issued, enabling owners or lessees of property in the program to expand agricultural use by constructing new or additional structures and amusement attractions. These included things such as greenhouses, barns, farm stands, special events and parking. Rather than requiring a referendum of the electorate, the permits and hardship exemption requests were to be handled by the Suffolk County Farmland Committee, made of up nineteen members, nine of whom were appointed by the County Executive. The other ten members were composed of persons selected by the ten Suffolk County towns, with each town getting one member.

In 2013, the County enacted Local Law 44-2013, which added a few refinements to the permit and hardship exemption program. It added agricultural tourism, horse boarding operations, hay rides, mazes and u-pick operations to the list of permitted uses.

The 2010 and 2013 local laws were challenged by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Inc., claiming that the laws violated a whole host of statutes and public policy. On September 28, 2016, Justice Thomas F. Whelan issued a ruling siding with the Pine Barrens Society, in which he declared the two local laws to be null and void. Justice Whelan also issued a permanent injunction that prohibited the granting of permits and hardship exemptions. He explained that the two local laws were, in effect, a “give back” to the owner of the development rights that had been bought, and paid for, by the County. Justice Whelan determined that this “give back” was a substantial intrusion and diversion of County assets for the personal gain, use and enjoyment of a private property owner, in contravention of public rights to use and enjoy the property as preserved open spaces and open areas.

The next step is up to Suffolk County to determine whether to appeal the decision. Unless it does so and is successful in overturning the ruling, the County cannot use these two local laws to allow development of preserved farmland.

 

thOn July 11, 2016 and August 22, 2016, we blogged about how to successfully prepare and record a deed in the State of New York.  Just a few days ago, a question arose as to whether joint tenants with rights of survivorship can hold title to real property in unequal interests.  Although I emphatically stated in our July 11, 2016 post that joint tenants can only hold title in equal shares, I wavered in my answer when I was met with opposition by others who emphatically stated that joint tenants can, in fact, hold title in unequal interests.  So this blog post is intended to set the record straight.  Under New York State law, persons holding title to real property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship must hold title in equal interests.

The three types of real property ownership interests consist of (1) tenants by the entirety, reserved to married couples only, which by its terms creates a survivorship interest in each party; (2) joint tenants, which creates a survivorship interest between the parties, and must be clearly stated on the deed in order for the joint tenancy to exist; and (3) tenants in common, which creates no survivorship interest between the parties and is typically used when friends or persons other than married or familial parties purchase, most often, investment properties.  When a deed is silent as to the ownership interest, such as John Doe and Mary Smith, unless John Doe and Mary Smith are married, the law presumes that the parties intended to create a tenancy in common, with no survivorship interest between the parties.

And, to further set the record straight – the term “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” is a misnomer.  The legal term “joint tenants” provides each titled owner with the right of survivorship.  Consequently, when drafting a deed, indicating the ownership interest between the parties as “joint tenants” is sufficient to create a right of survivorship between the parties.  (See EPTL 6-2.2).  Having said that, when creating a joint tenancy between parties, attorneys routinely indicate ownership interests as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship.”

Understanding the three types of ownership interests becomes of utmost importance when multiple parties take title to real property.  For example, in the State of New York, if John Smith and Mary Smith, his wife, take title to real property together with their children Jack Smith and Meg Smith, the interest created here is an undivided 50% ownership interest in the property by John and Mary Smith and a 25% tenant in common interest to each child, Jack and Meg.  The tenant in common ownership interest arises because the deed is silent as to the ownership interests among all four parties.  Upon the death of husband John, Mary remains a 50% owner; and her two children, Jack and Meg, each own the remaining 25%, all as tenants in common.

This scenario would change in the event that Jack, the son, was to die first.  In this instance, John and Mary Smith, husband and wife, remain 50% owners, Meg remains a 25% owner, and the heirs of Jack inherit his 25% interest.  If the deed had read:  “John Smith and Mary Smith, husband and wife, and Jack Smith and Meg Smith, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship”, then each of the parties, regardless of the spousal relationship, would own 25%.  Upon the death of any owner, the surviving parties would equally inherit the decedent’s share.  If Meg were to pass on first, then John’s, Mary’s and Jack’s interests would increase to 1/3 each.

There are numerous examples of cases where the ownership interests of the parties are disputed.  In most cases, the language set forth in the deed by the attorney draftsman is the cause of the litigation.   In reconfirming that joint tenants must hold equal ownership interests, I came across a 1996 Westchester County, Supreme Court case, Prario v. Novo 168 Misc.2d 610, whereby the trial court not only sets out the law, but also provides great examples of who owns what in specific ownership scenarios.  Most drafting mistakes arise when individuals hold title along with married couples.  To avoid creating an ownership interest that the parties did not anticipate, the drafter must carefully read the language set forth in the deed to ensure that the interests created are, in fact, the interests that the parties desire.  Perhaps printing out a copy of Prario, supra, will assist in avoiding critical ownership interest mistakes.

One footnote:  The joint tenant equal ownership interest theory does not necessarily mean that in a partition action, or action for divorce, each party will walk away with equal monetary amounts.  We will leave that discussion for another day!

th3QKHUYHKThere has been a lot of recent press about water pollution caused by PFOS and PFOA, in particular at Hoosick Falls in upstate New York and at the Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh. You may have wondered what the heck these chemicals are and should we be worried about them on Long Island. Here is some information to help answer these questions.

 Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl substances. They are highly resistant to water, grease and stains, a characteristic that explains why they were widely used in carpets, clothing, furniture fabric, food packaging, and cookware. PFOA was used to make Teflon®. PFOA and PFOS are components of firefighting foam used at airfields.

Although the US production of these chemicals has been phased out, these chemicals are resistant to environmental degradation. As a result, they are still widely distributed in the environment and have been found to accumulate in humans, wildlife and fish.

In May 2016, the USEPA issued a health advisory about acceptable levels of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. If drinking water contains PFOA or PFOS above 70 parts per trillion (ppt), the USEPA recommends that steps be taken to notify the public and health officials in order to limit exposure and identify the source. This is an extraordinarily low concentration. Picture a swimming pool full of one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) ping pong balls. Now picture 70 of them painted yellow and the rest of them (999,999,999,930) painted white. That’s 70 ppt. In April 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) added PFOS and PFOA to its list of hazardous substances.

In June 2016, the NYSDEC announced that it had reached settlements holding Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation and Honeywell International Inc. responsible for the PFOA water contamination in the Hoosick Falls area in upstate Rensselaer County. These plants manufactured Teflon®. Among other things, the settlement requires the companies to: (i) investigate PFOA contamination at four Honeywell and two St. Gobain plants; (ii) investigate the feasibility of an alternate water supply for the area; (iii) fund filtration systems for the local municipal water supply; and (iv) continue to pay for bottled water for local residents until the filtration systems are installed and working.

Two months later, in August 2016, the NYSDEC declared municipal landfills in the Village of Hoosick Falls and in the towns of Petersburgh and Berlin to be potential state Superfund sites. Monitoring wells at the Hoosick Falls site contained concentrations up to 21,000 ppt of PFOA, which is 3,000 times the USEPA health advisory limit. Samples from leachate on the Petersburgh/Berlin site contained concentrations up to 4,200 ppt of PFOA.

In early August 2016, the NYSDEC named the Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh as a New York State Superfund site based on PFOS contamination. PFOS was used in Class B firefighting foam at the air base. PFOS contamination was detected in Lake Washington, which served as Newburgh’s primary water supply. Concentrations up to 5,900 ppt were found in an outfall from the air base that drained into Silver Stream, a primary tributary of Lake Washington.

Can it happen on Long Island? It already has. In July 2016, PFOS was detected in public supply wells near the Air National Guard Base at Gabreski Airport, in Westhampton Beach.  Concentrations of PFOS at 14,300 ppt were detected in monitoring wells. Groundwater downgradient of the current fire training area contained concentrations of PFOS at 58,900 ppt and PFOA at 6,930 ppt. Groundwater downgradient of the former fire training area contained concentrations of PFOS at 44,300 ppt and PFOA at 653 ppt. Not surprisingly, Gabreski was declared a state Superfund site a few weeks ago.