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Court Determines if Prior Contract Existed

A Probate Lawyer said the plaintiff-Claimant, Mr. W, commenced this day small claims action against defendant, RAL, alleging that owing to the defendant improperly listing the premises claimant purchased as having city sewers when it did not, claimant was forced to incur the cost of installing a sewer line after closing.

Claimant testified that he was induced to initially look at, and then eventually purchase, the premises because the house was listed as having city sewers. Defendant is a licensed real estate broker and was the listing broker on the sale. Claimant stated that he was only interested in homes that had a city sewer and was shown the house by another real estate brokerage firm. Claimant asserts that after he closed on the house in March 2013, he learned that the property did not have city sewers but in fact had a septic tank system. Because the City of New York installed sewers in Woodrow Road at that time, claimant was required to spend $4,200.00 to run a sewer line from the city line in the street to his house.

A New York Estate Lawyer said that there are several problems with the claimant’s allegations. First, he testified that he worked for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and does sewer maintenance as part of his job. Second, both he and the defendant broker’s witness testified that there were contractors installing sewer lines in the Woodrow Road area when the house was listed and when the claimant visited the premises on more than one occasion. Yet no one thought to make inquires to why the streets were being dug up. Third, claimant hired a structural engineer to prepare a report prior to entering into the contract. That report was not put into evidence. Fourth, claimant did not produce the contract of sale which he entered into with the seller which may have had a representation as to the existence of city sewers, private sewers, septic tanks or cesspools. Fifth, claimant did not produce his title report which if done in the standard manner as prepared in Richmond County, would have included municipal searches marked for information only disclosing any city related water and sewer charges assessed against the property. The lack of this information in the title report should have triggered an inquiry by all parties to the transaction. A certificate of occupancy search which may have contained information in that regard, is also a customary document provided by a municipal search.

Manhattan Probate Lawyers said that this court is well aware that the real estate industry locally, if not statewide, continues to assert that real estate brokerage is a profession requiring training, skill and expertise in all areas of real property activities. Brokers are constantly seeking to be granted the authority draft contracts for the sale of real property, if not other documents usually prepared by attorneys at law. Although not classified as a profession regulated by the Education Law or the Judiciary Law, the Department of State has continued to monitor and enforce the requirements for becoming a licensed real estate broker or salesperson. The Real Property Law (RPL) requires an applicant to show trustworthiness and the competency to transact the business of real estate broker in such a manner as to safeguard the interests of the public. That section provides that any applicant must furnish proof of completing one hundred twenty hours of approved real estate related courses and demonstrated knowledge of the legal effect of deeds, mortgages, land contracts of sale, and leases. In order to maintain a license, continuing real estate education courses must be completed every two years.

New York City Probate Lawyers said that RPL §443 sets forth the form containing the disclosures a broker is required to deliver to either the seller or the buyer in a transaction. Defendant as the seller’s agent is required in dealings with the buyer, a seller’s agent should (a) exercise reasonable skill and care in performance of the agent’s duties; (b) deal honestly, fairly and in good faith; and (c) disclose all facts known to the agent materially affecting the value or desirability of property except as otherwise provided by law.

Here, however, neither party has placed into evidence a copy of the signed contract between the claimant and the seller. Although an argument could be made that the defendant as the real estate broker would not necessarily have a copy of the contract, the rules of the Division of Licensing Services of the Department of State does require licensed real estate brokers to maintain certain records of each transaction. One of the records that a broker has the option of maintaining is a copy of the contract of sale, so it is possible that the defendant had a copy as part of its records even if there were alternate methods of keeping information.

The existence of the entire contract would clarify whether the claimant actually knew that there was no city sewers at the premises prior to signing the agreement based on representations of the seller; whether an adjustment was made in the purchase price because of the lack of sewers; whether upon receiving either the home inspection report or the title report this fact was revealed to the claimant and if the contract was renegotiated because of that information.

The claimant did not produce the title report he received. The title report should have a municipal search showing open water and sewer charges. If the report showed no sewer charges, then a bell should have gone off with claimant’s attorney, and even seller’s attorney, if either of them or both of them were operating under the assumption that there was a city sewer servicing the premises because the contract was prepared based on information provided either by the seller or by either real estate broker. If there was no sewer charge in the municipal search, it should have triggered inquiry by claimant’s counsel as to why that was the case if there was a city sewer.

Taking all of the above into account, it is apparent that anytime after the defendant took the listing, the defendant could have checked the public records and determined that the property did not have city sewers. Likewise, claimant, his broker, his structural engineer, and his attorney anytime before the contract was entered into could have checked the public record especially in light of the importance of this issue to the claimant as he articulated at the trial. Even after the contract was entered into, claimant and his counsel could have addressed this issue when the title report with the municipal searches was received. Apparently this was not done, or more accurately, there is no evidence that anyone made even a minimum investigation into the accuracy of the listing information provided by the seller.

Although claimant’s alleged of lack of knowledge, borders on being less than credible, taking into account all of the facts, the primary responsibility for discovering the inaccurate information must fall on the defendant as the listing broker. Had defendant as a licensed real estate broker compared the information available in the public record to the data provided by the seller, the defendant could have corrected the listing before interested purchasers began calling, and allegedly the claimant would not have even looked at this house. Any damages that have occurred flow from defendant’s actions.

Claimant has proven his prima facie case. Defendant did not accurately list the facts concerning the existence of the septic system rather than city sewers and this induced the defendant to enter into the contract to and to purchase the premises. Hence, judgment for claimant in the amount of $4,200.00, the cost of hooking the premises into the city sewer line, with interest from the date of decision, costs and disbursements.

To avoid the inconvenience experienced above, it is always wise to consult a learned Richmond County Estate Attorney when it comes to acquisition of property or any transactions related to real estate property.

The Stephen Bilkis & Associates has a roll of Richmond County Estate Lawyers who can help you with your property issues. Do not assume to know all the necessary things attached to your properties, always consult an expert legal representative.

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