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February 2012 Archives

Validity of Inheritance Rights in Same-Sex Marriage

Prior to New York's legalization of same-sex marriage, an appeals court upheld the right of a man to inherit the contents of his partner's estate, after the Will was disputed by the deceased individual's siblings. At that time, there appeared to be a growing trend in the courts affirming the inheritance rights of gay and lesbian couples who had been legally married elsewhere. Now that same-sex couples can marry here, inheritance rights of those who originally married in another jurisdiction are likely to be strengthened. If you are a party in a legal same-sex marriage, now reside in New York, and are named in the Will of your partner, there is support for your right to inherit against the claims of the deceased's family members. 

Combat Sexual Harassment from the Landlord

If you are being subject to sexual harassment from your landlord, you may have grounds to bring legal action. Sexual harassment can include lewd remarks, propositions, and insulting comments of a sexual nature, in addition to a range of other suggestive behaviors. You do not have to tolerate this abuse. Document what happened at each incident, including the day, time and circumstances. Then call a Tenants' attorney to discuss your rights and how to proceed. Frequently, a lawyer's letter to the landlord demanding an immediate end to the offending behavior, and threatening legal action if it continues, does the trick. If the offences are serious enough, you may be able to sue and collect monetary damages.

Ask for an Explanation

 Representing yourself in Housing Court can be an overwhelming experience. Most tenants appear without lawyers. Most landlords show up with one. So the battlefield is often an uneven and treacherous one for tenants, who lack the knowledge and legal expertise their opponents have access to. One resource that is available to you during a trial is to ask the judge to explain anything you don't understand. The judge can't take the place of an attorney and give legal advice, but can explain what is actually happening in the proceeding to you. Don't be shy. Your shelter is at stake. Ask.

Change Your E-Mail Passwords Immediately

E-mail communications often end up in evidence during divorce litigation. As with all other prudent steps, such as closing joint bank accounts, getting credit cards in your own name, etc, protecting your e-mail accounts is a priority. If you don't you may find that your spouse downloads sensitive information, and a judge considers it admissible at trial. An even more secure approach might be to close the accounts entirely and start new ones. While recent cases in other jurisdictions have deemed that prying into a spouse's e-mail account is illegal, it doesn't necessarily mean your spouse will be charged with breaking the law by doing so here - every case has individual facts that are considered. Don't take the risk of revealing damaging information to the other side or making private things public. 

How to Object

When you are at trial in Housing Court and the judge is hearing both sides of the case, you are entitled to object to any part of the landlord's testimony that is not relevant to the issues at hand. Simply say, "Objection!" The judge might immediately agree with you and "sustain" the objection, or can allow you to explain your reasons for objecting, and then either sustain or overrule it. If your objection is sustained, that part of the landlord's testimony will be struck from the record and cannot be used against you. Objecting effectively requires a fair amount of facility and knowledge, and is done best by good trial attorneys. However, if you can't afford counsel and are representing yourself, you'll want every legal advantage possible. Raising relevant objections can help your case.

Put The Tenant Fair Chance Act to Work For You

In February 2011 new legislation was passed to protect tenants from blacklisting. The Tenant Fair Chance Act requires landlords, real estate brokers and management companies, that rent apartments in buildings with five or more units, to disclose whether they use a screening agency when selecting tenants, and to supply its name and address. If your rental application is denied, you must be notified in writing and given the reason why. The law allows tenants to get a fee copy of the report. You can monitor what's on it and ask the screening agency to correct any mistakes or stale information that should have been cleared.

If It Involves Technology, It Can Be Tracked

Adultery is one of the primary reasons for divorce, and in fact is a crime in the state of New York. If you're contemplating divorce and infidelity is involved, get an assessment from an experienced matrimonial lawyer before you say or do anything that may impact your spouse or children. Before the rise of technology, divorce lawyers would look for a paper trail as evidence of cheating: credit card receipts, motel records, travel itineraries, etc. These days, the prevalence of technology makes it almost impossible to hide infidelity. Cell phone calls and text messaging records, e-mail and other types of electronic accounts, Internet chatting, browsing activity (including porn sites), and data on hard drives are all discoverable. It's a mistake to think anything can be completely erased - attorneys can hire forensic investigators who have methods of recovering the information. The discovery of infidelity is damaging enough, but once the unfaithful party is shown to be a liar, it does a great deal of damage to his or her case. That's why if the prospect of divorce is looming, before you make statements or do anything else, speak to a lawyer first. 

Don't Spend the Money

Unscrupulous landlords sometimes delay accepting rent payments in hopes that you'll spend the money for another purpose, and then come up short when they finally demand it. In some instances they may take a long time to cash your rent checks. In others, the landlord might wait until the back rents build up to a level he or she believes you can't pay, and then spring the trap of an eviction suit. So, the rule to protect your tenancy is this: once money is allocated for your rent, don't spend it for any other reason, no matter how long it takes the landlord to accept or collect it. Certainly, if you're withholding rent because the landlord has not repaired bad conditions, make sure it is available for payment once they're corrected. Otherwise, the judge will have no choice but to give you five days to pay before issuing a Warrant of Eviction. 

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