Casanas v The Carlei Group LLC and Casanas
Rosenberg & Estis, P.C. successfully represented a Manhattan apartment building owner and obtained summary judgment declaring that the long-term leases for two apartments proffered by an alleged tenant were invalid and unenforceable.
The plaintiff, a former licensee in the building, sued the owner and its principal (her brother) for a declaration that two long-term leases, purportedly executed by the parties’ parents in 1993 and 2003 for approximately 30-year terms, were “valid and enforceable agreements.” The defendants vigorously disputed the plaintiff’s claims. They asserted, among many other things, that while they concededly orally licensed the apartments in question to the plaintiff, (1) they never negotiated or signed any lease with the plaintiff for either of the subject apartments, or any other apartment, at any time, (2) never signed any such alleged leases nor authorized anyone to do so on the defendants’ behalf, and (3) prior to the commencement of the action, had never been made aware of the existence of such purported leases.
Forming the primary basis for the defendants’ summary judgment motion, however, was their affirmative defense and counterclaim that – assuming that the alleged leases were not fraudulent — the purported consideration recited in each alleged lease was fatally indefinite, rendering them unenforceable. In lieu of a monthly rental, one of the leases recited the consideration as: “Rent waiver in exchange for 20 hours work per week.” Similarly, the other lease stated: “[P]referential rent = Rent waiver in exchange for 20 (twenty) hours a week.” Citing New York’s Statute of Frauds and supporting case law, the defendants argued that the purported consideration could not be objectively determined within the documents’ four corners, or, alternatively, constituted an unenforceable “agreement to agree” as to an essential lease term, rendering the alleged leases unenforceable as a matter of law.
Supreme Court (Carol R. Edmead, J.) agreed with our arguments and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants: “Rent here is clearly a material term in the leases. Thus, the rental terms must be reasonably certain. Rent waivers “in exchange for 20 (twenty) hours a week” or for “20 hours work per week” are plainly vague and indefinite. . . [T]he leases here provide no objective method for clarifying their indefinite material terms. As a consequence, the purported leases . . . each violate the Statute of Frauds, as codified by GOL section 5-703 (2), and are thus invalid and unenforceable.” While the plaintiff asserted that the alleged leases should be enforced notwithstanding their violation of the Statute of Frauds based on the doctrine of “part performance,” the court disagreed: “Here, if the court invoked its equitable powers to allow plaintiff to avoid the consequences of the Statute of Frauds, the terms of the obligations, whether it be . . . ’20 hours’ or ’20 hours work’ would remain vague and indefinite, and they would continue to cause uncertainty. Accordingly, the court declines to invoke its equitable powers in these circumstances.” As a result, the court held, inter alia, that the alleged leases “are invalid and unenforceable,” and that “plaintiff has no possessory interest in the apartments arising from these purported lease[s].”
The decision represents only the latest example of how Rosenberg & Estis employs creative legal strategies to obtain favorable results for its clients.