Archive for January 2011
Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-HammelRich Ryan of Richmond complains about a huge mound of snow in the middle of his cul-de-sac on Croft Court. He says he fell and hit his head last week, and had to meet the ambulance down the block on Corona Avenue.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A winter storm watch for the area remains in effect from tomorrow morning through Wednesday evening, with sleet, freezing rain and anywhere from two to six inches of snow possible.
Here’s the latest on what Staten Islanders should expect, courtesy of the National Weather Service:
Snow begins after midnight tonight… transitioning to a wintry mix of sleet… snow and freezing rain Tuesday morning. This wintry mix continues for much of the day Tuesday before becoming intermittent Tuesday evening. Then a heavy mix of snow… sleet and freezing ran develops late Tuesday night… before gradually changing to rain later Wednesday morning. There is still some uncertainty on the exact timing of changeover Wednesday morning… which will have an impact on icing amounts.
Black ice – that thin layer of frozen water difficult to detect on asphalt until you encounter it – is likely to be a factor in many an automobile crash tomorrow. The rain will eventually reduce the effectiveness of road salt, allowing patches of ice to form even on surfaces that had previously been treated and appear to be clear and safe for travel.
NYC has declared a weather emergency. The snow is forecast to become more severe this evening and overnight.
- The public is urged to avoid all unnecessary driving during the duration of the storm and until further directed, and to use public transportation wherever possible. If you must drive, use extreme caution. Information about any service changes to public transportation is available on the MTA website.
- Any vehicle found to be blocking roadways or impeding the ability to plow streets shall be subject to towing at the owner's expense.
- Effective immediately, alternate side parking, payment at parking meters and garbage collections are suspended citywide until further notice.
- The Emergency Management, Fire, Police, Sanitation, and Transportation Commissioners will be taking all appropriate and necessary steps to preserve public safety and to render all required and available assistance to protect the security, well-being and health of the residents of the City.
Visit NYC Snow Updates for the latest updates about the storm
Visit the National Weather Service for the latest forecast
Report heat and hot water issues to 311 online
Learn more about winter weather safety
Staten Island woke up to temperatures in the single digits yesterday, causing cars to sputter and even the hardiest commuters to wince when they stepped outside.
And with another storm that may dump more snow, sleet or rain here tomorrow, many borough residents have started countdowns to spring.
"Snow and cold," are words that sum up December and January, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Ross Dickman. Temperatures "have been so far below normal" and storm after storm has kept adding to the snow already on the ground that "we may have a snowpack well into February the way things are going," he said.
But for anyone who remembers the 2003-2004 winter, this season is not out of the ordinary.
Those years, the average temperature in December and January was 32.6 degrees and 37 inches of snow had fallen in Central Park. This year, the average temperature for the same period is 31.5 degrees (not even close to the top 10 coldest winters) while 36.1 inches have fallen so far, according to AccuWeather.com.
"We've had some mild winters in the last five years, so people remember that better," said AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines.
The 2003-2004 winter ended with 42.6 inches of snow after just 5.5 inches fell in February and March. "That would rival what we're going through now."
The record winter snowfall in 1995-96 was 75.7 inches. Last winter saw 51.4 inches, more than double the normal of 22.4 inches. The coldest December-February season saw an average of 25.7 degrees in 1917-18.
For the next two or three weeks, Kines said temperatures will remain below normal. He suggested long-term weather patterns show warmer, above-average temperatures in the second half of February and March. But Dickman said "it's too early to tell what February and March will bring."
AccuWeather's Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi said this could end up as the coldest winter for the U.S. as a whole since the 1980s. There's also a higher chance for late-season winter storms, that could stretch the season into April some place in the East.
As for tomorrow's storm, both Dickman and Kines said it's too early to say for sure if Staten Island will see just rain, a mix of snow and rain or mainly snow.
"We're not through the cold weather yet," Kines said. "My guess is we're not done with the snow either."
"The real tragedy is that so often these fires are easily preventable," Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said. "Unsafe home heating methods are a leading cause of fires during the winter. Remembering just a few basic tips can keep you and your family safe."
* Space heaters should be on a flat surface at least three feet from anything that can burn and should always be turned off when leaving a room or going to sleep.
*Check on your neighbors when the temperature is below the freezing mark, especially the elderly and those with pre-existing health problems.
Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. If you already have detectors installed, make sure they work by testing them at least once a month.
For more information on home heating tips and fire safety tips, visit the FDNY website at
Shoveling Snow From Sidewalks
FEW things are as picturesque as a thick blanket of freshly fallen snow glistening in the sun. Except, of course, when the blanket covers the sidewalk and you're the designated shoveler.
For many homeowners, shoveling snow ranks right up there with other dreaded domestic activities such as clearing clogged drains, weeding the lawn and cleaning dead, wet leaves out of rain gutters. The difference, however, is that at least the drains, grass and gutters are theirs. The sidewalk, on the other hand, usually belongs to the city.
''There are two basic rules,'' said Ross Sandler, director of the Center for New York City Law, a nonprofit educational organization at New York Law School. ''The first rule is that the city is responsible for the condition of the public streets and sidewalks.'' And that, Mr. Sandler said, includes the responsibility for removing snow from public sidewalks.
But, he said, ''the second rule is that the city requires individual land owners to clear the snow from sidewalks abutting their property.'' And he added that the courts have upheld the right of local governments to require property owners to maintain public sidewalks adjoining their property.
Indeed, most homeowners — whether in city or suburbs — realize they have some responsibility for shoveling their sidewalk after a snowstorm.
Meg Reuter, a lawyer and managing editor of City Law, a newsletter published by the Center for New York City Law, explained that in New York City, neither the city nor the homeowner is required to shovel while snow is falling. When the snowing stops, however, the city has a ''reasonable time'' to insure that the sidewalks are cleared.
While the law does not specifically define how much time is reasonable, Ms. Reuter said, at least one court has ruled that it would not be unreasonable for the city to take as much as two days to remove 22 inches of snow from a public sidewalk.
The city, however, is not nearly as liberal in giving homeowners time to shovel sidewalks outside their homes.
''The city's Administrative Code requires owners, occupiers and managers of property abutting the public sidewalk to clear the snow from the sidewalk within four hours after the cessation of any snowfall,'' Ms. Reuter said, adding that shoveling can wait until the next morning if the snow stops falling between 9 P.M. and 7 A.M.
''You can get a ticket for not shoveling,'' she said, explaining that a first violation carries a $50 fine while subsequent violations carry $100 penalties.
In most states, individual municipalities have similar laws requiring snow removal from public sidewalks within a specific time period. The time periods and penalties for a violation, however, vary from town to town. But even if there were no laws requiring shoveling, many homeowners would shovel anyway to avoid potential liability in the event someone slips and falls and is injured on a slippery sidewalk.
What many homeowners do not know, however, is that in some cases the safest way to avoid liability for a slip and fall on a snow-covered sidewalk is to do nothing at all — no shoveling, no plowing, no salting — and pay whatever fines are imposed.
''It sounds odd,'' said Mr. Sandler, who is also a law professor at New York Law School. ''But in New York, the landowner who shovels negligently is at risk of being held liable for a slip and fall. The landowner who does nothing cannot be held liable at all.''
The reason for the odd result, Mr. Sandler said, is rule No. 1 above: The city is responsible for the condition of the public streets and sidewalks.
And while the city can shift responsibility for shoveling public sidewalks to private homeowners, it cannot shift responsibility for injuries. ''For decades the city has been operating under the assumption that in New York, a city cannot shift liability for sidewalk defects to abutting landowners,'' Mr. Sandler said. As a result, he said, unless a homeowner makes things worse by shoveling poorly, the homeowner cannot be held liable for injuries sustained by others.
That could change, however, Mr. Sandler said, as the result of an appellate court decision rendered earlier this year in the case of Hausser v. Giunta, which involved a woman in Long Beach, L.I., who sued her next-door neighbor because of injuries sustained in a fall on the neighbor's sidewalk.
''The court held that the belief that a city could not shift liability for slips and falls to private property owners was a misunderstanding of the law,'' he said, adding that the case is described in detail in the current issue of City Law. ''The city just has to pass a local law to do it.''
Well, guess what?
''A bill has been introduced in the City Council,'' said Eugene Borenstein, chief of the tort division for the city corporation counsel's office. The bill, Mr. Borenstein said, would shift liability for injuries sustained as the result of defects on public sidewalks to the owners of property abutting them. It doesn't matter, Mr. Borenstein explained, whether the ''defect'' is the result of unshoveled snow, cracks in the concrete or a misplaced banana peel.
And while an injured person would still have to prove negligence and would still probably name the city in the suit, he said, the city would be able to shift liability to point the finger at abutting property owners who fail to properly maintain their sidewalks. And that, Mr. Borenstein said, could save taxpayers a significant portion of the nearly $50 million the city paid out last year alone for personal injury claims resulting from sidewalk slips and falls.
Michael Clendenin, a spokesman for the New York City Council, said that while the proposal currently would make all owners of property abutting a public sidewalk liable for injuries sustained on the sidewalk, the Council was hoping to find some way to carve out an exception for single-family homeowners. The bill, he said, is in the Council's Transportation Committee.
''There haven't been any hearings and there is no movement on the bill right now,'' Mr. Clendenin said.
In addition to providing homeowners with greater incentive to shovel and shovel well, however, passage of the bill could have a negative impact on the cost of liability insurance — particularly for owners of larger buildings.
''This means that co-ops and condos in the city will face far more lawsuits from pedestrians and building residents who trip and fall on poorly maintained sidewalks,'' said Bruce Cholst, a Manhattan lawyer who specializes in co-op and condominium law.
Mr. Cholst said that while most claims would be covered by the building's insurance carrier, the increase in claims paid could have an adverse impact on a co-op or condominium's claim history, thereby driving up its annual premium.
''That could prove far more costly than shoveling and maintaining the sidewalk,'' he said.
Drawing (Tom Bloom)
Because we at Our Island Property Management know that the first line of defense against water damage is making sure you have sufficeint water drainage we conduct periodic inspections of your property to make sure everything is working correctly.
We at Our Island Property Management Don't believe anything is left to chance. We put everything in writing. We also do a walkthrough with a checklist to show the condition of all fixtures and take pictures before move in. Then we do the same at move out.
Applying 'law of fixtures' to rentals
Rent it Right click here to read all articles January 14, 2011
Q: We recently moved into a single-family rental. The owners had lived there before us, and when we saw the house and rented it, they were still there. So were a central vacuum system, drapes and a large chandelier over the dining room table. But when we moved in, the vacuum hoses and attachments were gone, as were the living room drapes and the chandelier.
When we asked, the owners said, "Oh, those things are our personal property; we took them with us." We thought they were part of the rental. Who's right? –Paul P.
A: Your question would bring joy to the heart of a property law professor, because the answer calls for understanding the difference between personal property and a "fixture." Though I'm not a professor, I've managed to remember enough of that years-ago class that I may be able to help you.
First, for the rules. Property is either real or personal, as far as the law goes. Real property is land, any buildings on it, and other things that are "affixed" to it. Personal property, also known as "chattel," is movable and not fixed to the land. An item can start out as personal property — think of a wood-burning stove that moves from the showroom to the living room — and become part of the real property in which it is installed. The installation — the act of screwing, nailing, cementing or bolting — converts the stove from personal property to a fixture, a part of the land. And when the land is sold, the fixture goes with it.
Or so you would think. The extent of the installation, the intent of the person placing the particular piece of property in the home, and how destructive it would be (to the structure or the fixture/chattel) to remove the item, are factors that judges consider when asked to decide whether a particular item is chattel or a fixture.
At one extreme, consider a brick, part of a brick wall. While once a piece of personal property, it's been cemented into the structure, with the intent that it remain, and removing it would cause significant damage to the brick and the wall. So, it's a fixture and stays put.
At the other end, think of a portable dishwasher. Though it's attached to the water source and drain, it may have been chosen precisely because it did not require extensive installation and can be removed with little or no evidence that it was ever there. Nor does the removal injure the dishwasher. It's quite likely that this piece of equipment can travel with its owner.
Let's look at the items you're missing. The central vacuum system won't work without the presence of the hoses and attachments, but taking them away did no injury to the system. True, but saying that their removal is OK is close to saying that it would also be fine for a landlord to remove the racks from a built-in stove. It would not make sense to say that the racks are not part of the oven; just so, the hoses and attachments are necessary to the vacuum system.
Interestingly, one court has faced just this question. In Fisher v. Baronti, an appellate court in New York suggested that the answer to the vacuum question might depend on whether the parties involved are a landlord and tenant or a seller and buyer. The court observed that a buyer, who obtains the property permanently, has a more justifiable expectation of receiving a complete and workable system than a mere tenant, who is obtaining merely the temporary use of the system.
The drapes and chandelier pose slightly different questions. Drapes and their supports and pull mechanisms are definitely attached to the property, as is the chandelier, which is bolted onto the ceiling and wired. But removing both will not cause great harm to the structure or the items. They're starting to look a lot like fixtures. But at this point, the nitty-gritty facts of the case will become very important — what, if anything, was said about them when you were shown the house? Were they touted as one of its fine features? (Read, fixtures.) Or did the landlord mention that, of course, you'd want to install your own window treatments and lighting? (Meaning, they're going with the landlord.)
To avoid confusion like this, smart buyers and sellers make detailed lists of the items that are part of the sale, always including drapes, lighting fixtures and anything else that might be open to disagreement. Nothing prevents a seller from saying, before the sale, that an item that by default would be a fixture, and part of the sale, is instead going to be removed. The buyer can argue about it, but importantly, this debate takes place before anyone has signed the sales contract.
Landlords should practice the same care, particularly when renting a home that they once lived in. It's very easy to view items as personal and movable because they have so much personal history, despite their correct categorization in the law. Short of removing the features that make a rental fit and habitable (you can't take the one and only toilet because it's your favorite, for example), there's nothing wrong or illegal about saying upfront that the lovely dining room fixture will be going with the landlord to his new home.
Q: A longtime tenant of mine just moved out in order to enter assisted living. When I went into his flat, I was shocked. It was crammed full of stuff — old newspapers, food containers, rags — so that you could hardly move. It's going to cost a mint to clean up, and I'll even have to replace wallboard (mold damage) and gut the bathrooms. The security deposit will never cover it — can I expect my insurance policy to help out? –Mike M.
A: It sounds like your ex-tenant suffered from compulsive hoarding (also known as Collyer Brothers' Syndrome, named after famous New York hoarders from the last century). This malady, which some doctors understand as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, involves a need to acquire and keep items that have no rational value. Many people suffer from Collyer's Syndrome, though not all exhibit the extremes that you describe.
I think you've got an uphill fight on your hands if you expect your insurance policy to cover this damage, though there is a long-shot theory (more on that below). You'll need to start by looking at the language of your property insurance policy.
Property insurance will typically cover damage that is the result of a sudden and unexpected event, such as a torn roof that was caused by a rainstorm, a broken window resulting from vandalism, or a fire caused by your tenant's negligence. The key words, "sudden and unexpected," should concern you.
The very definition of a hoarder is that the person accumulates items over time, eventually completely surrounding himself. By definition, it takes time to become a hoarder, and more time still for the consequences of hoarding (like vermin infestation, mold and filth) to become property hazards.
During that time, you as the landlord had ample and legal opportunity to make sure that your property was being used properly (in all states, tenants must exercise a reasonable level of housekeeping, so as not to damage the premises). Even in states that closely guard tenants' privacy (making it illegal, for instance, for landlords to pop in unannounced, just to check things over), landlords can always schedule visits to evaluate the need for maintenance.
As long as the landlord follows state-mandated rules on giving notice, and schedules the visits for reasonable days and times, tenants must let the landlord enter or face termination. After all, if landlords are to comply with their legal duty to maintain "fit and habitable" housing, they need an opportunity to see the rental and decide whether preventative maintenance, at the very least, is in order.
Your insurance carrier is likely to point to your failure to keep even minimal tabs on your property, and might liken it to a failure to deal with a leaky pipe. A water leak that lasts over time, eventually causing substantial damage, is not a "sudden and unexpected" event that will trigger coverage — even if you didn't know about it. In other words, you can't look to your carrier when damage results from your failure to handle routine repairs and maintenance.
Before giving up on your insurance policy, however, you might try that long-shot theory mentioned at the start. Your property policy provides coverage for the peril of vandalism, which is the willful or ignorant destruction of property. You could argue that your tenant's hoarding tenant's behavior was both, and therefore should be covered by the policy. Now, your insurance company may argue that there was no destruction, because all you need to do is clean (albeit to an extreme degree). But in insurance lingo, destruction means "to render useless for its intended purpose" — either permanently or for a short time.
In addition, vandalism need not be sudden or accidental, as with water and other maintenance problems. If you try this avenue and get nowhere, consider questioning your company's denial, possibly with your state's department of insurance.
Whether you win or lose this argument, there's a lesson to be learned here: Even if your tenant regularly pays rent and makes no maintenance demands, don't neglect to visit the property at reasonable and legal intervals, to see for yourself that it's being used properly.
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Evictions take time, effort and costs money. It is always better to avoid Landlord/Tenant court. One of the best was to prevent eviction is by thoroughly screening prospective tenants. We at Our Island Property Management run know the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The number one reason for eviction is non-payment. The first question you need to ask is were you ever evicted before? That is why we run a landlord/tenant court search on each prospective tenant. The second indicator is their income. Do they make enough money? We verify their employment and their salary. In addition we run a full credit check that shows all outstanding credit. One that shows other monthly bills such as credit cards, auto payments and/or student loans. Evictions that are non-payment related are usually repeated problems with residents and the owner. Most times owners will wait till the last straw. we don't recommend that course of action. Our Island Property Management knows that we need to specify our rules in the beginning. Tenants sign an extensive lease which lets them know their responsibilities. Then we follow up with written notifications when a rule is not followed. We also keep detailed records so that if we must go to court, we have proof. You can either do these things for yourself or the best way to protect yourself is to hire Our Island Property Management to do it for you.
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