Ask the Architect

Our attorney is avoiding us

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Q. We bought a house six months ago, and had a summons stuck on our front door two weeks after we moved in. It turned out that our seller was in the middle of getting permits for an addition, the garage and a deck, but never followed up. We had to go to court, with a new attorney, pay his fee and a $500 fine in court. Our new attorney and I have been trying to reach my closing attorney, but he won’t return calls and is never there (all of a sudden). The seller’s attorney says he has nothing to do with the situation, and our attorney is telling us both attorneys were required to tell me, the buyer, especially since, curiously enough, there turns out to be an escrow account set up to handle the permits. Do you often see this kind of thing and who is responsible to get the permits finished?

A. I imagine that my attorney readership is as annoyed as the rest of you that this kind of thing happened because, for the most part, my experience is that the legal profession is forthright and doesn’t tolerate this kind of behavior. Any professional who sees their peers acting unethically should be intolerant of the bad name it gives to the rest of the profession. That said, this situation is very real, though thankfully, most attorneys will follow up with the buyer and seller to make the process of conveying property complete, and legal.

I’m glad you were determined to get answers, especially when your attorney decided to try to avoid you. It was clear from the escrow scenario that the attorneys had discussed the problem that the seller had created by not getting permits at any time, not just before closing. By suddenly not being able to communicate or explain the process that led to the decision to let the closing take place, the attorney(s) did you a disservice, and the attorney(s) knew better.

I’ve spoken with your new attorney, and said that you, the owner of the property, are the only party the local jurisdiction can summon to court. I usually liken it to the game we played as kids, “hot potato,” in which we tossed a ball randomly around the circle. When the music stopped, the one holding the ball was the loser. Unfortunately, the interpretation of our “buyer beware” state of New York went in an unethical direction. Every effort should have been made to clear the matter before you inherited the problem, and still can.

The filing documents should be researched, and the forms substituted to show that you’re the new owner. Often, the plans are held up for permit because information is incomplete. Your new attorney sounds like he’s asking the right questions, and one way or another, you’ll have a just outcome. But it leaves you wondering how people can do this. It happens every day. Good luck!

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.