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Real Estate Law
WHERE DOES YOUR LANDLORD LIVE?
Knowing where the owner of your building lives or works can be useful information, particularly if you are trying to start a lawsuit.
In Stefanelli v. Matonti, Waleska Stefanelli and Thomas Probeyahn successfully sued their former landlord -- Frank Matonti -- to recover their security deposit. The problem is that plaintiffs scored their victory "on default," which means that when the landlord failed to appear in opposition to the case the court granted relief in the plaintiffs' favor.
Several months later, Matonti sought to have his default vacated and the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that the court "lacked jurisdiction" over him. Matonti claimed he had not been properly served with the papers initiating the litigation. Ironically, that motion was granted on default. (This time the plaintiffs didn't oppose the relief requested by the landlord.)
The plaintiffs later sought to reopen the case and, of course, the Suffolk County District Court graciously acquiesced. But that victory proved to be short-lived as the Appellate Term, 9th and 10th Judicial Districts, dismissed the entire dispute on appeal. (Are you dizzy, yet?)
It appears that the papers starting the lawsuit (the summons and complaint) were left for the landlord at an address in Woodland Road, in Centereach, New York, which also happened to be the same building in which the plaintiffs had lived. While that building was Matonti's "investment property," it was not where he resided or conducted business. At least that is what the appellate court concluded:
Contrary to the determination of the court below, we find that none of defendant's statements indicate that the Woodland Road address was his actual place of business. Nor was there any other evidence that the subject residential investment property was in fact defendant's actual place of business ..., and the record on appeal does not indicate that defendant, through regular solicitation or advertisement, held the Woodland Road address out as his actual place of business .... Since there was likewise no evidence that the premises was defendant's dwelling place or usual place of abode, we find that service at that address was insufficient to acquire jurisdiction over defendant.
In addition, even if the appellate court wanted to treat the Centereach property as Matonti's "place of business," the process server's failure to make more than one service attempt to find Matonti undermined that possibility.
A technical knockout!
We can't wait for the next bout!
For a copy of the Appellate Term's decision, please use this link: Stefanelli v. Matonti
From Real Estate Law Blog posted 2007-04-17.