Opinions and Legal Insights

New York’s Uniform Partition Of Heirs Property Act Does Not Apply Retroactively

The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act became effective in New York on December 6, 2019 –  we wrote about it here.  The goal of the UPHPA, found at RPAPL § 993, is to preserve family real property.

Pursuant to the Act’s own terms, it does not apply retroactively, and only applies to New York partition actions commenced after the effective date.  Despite this clear language, the issue of retroactive application was raised in Pachter v. 3063 Brighton 8 Props. LLC, and quickly disposed of by the Supreme Court, Kings County.

The Facts of Pachter v. 3063 Brighton 8 Props. LLC

Judith Lindenberg, owner of 1/3 of a piece of real property located in Brooklyn, passed away in May 2018.  Plaintiffs, Lindenberg’s brother and sister, sought to partition the property.  Defendant is a part-owner of the property.

The initial partition action was filed in August 2019.  After Lindenberg’s will was revoked in late 2019, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint indicating that New York’s laws of intestate succession governed plaintiffs’ interests in the property.

The amended complaint stated that on Lindenberg’s death, her interest in the property “vested by operation of law upon plaintiffs equally.” Plaintiff’s complaint contained three causes of action: (1) for a declaratory judgment that the plaintiffs are “jointly 1/3 owners of the property as tenants-in-common,” (2) for partition and sale of the property, and (3) for an equitable accounting.

Defendant sought leave to serve an amended answer to assert that the property constituted “heirs property” under New York’s Uniform Partition Of Heirs Property Act, thereby triggering certain requirements and perhaps barring the action.

New York Partition Basics

The court summarized the basics of partition law in New York:

A party who jointly owns property with another may “seek physical partition of the property or partition and sale when he or she no longer wishes to jointly use or own the property” (RPAPL § 901(1); Manganiello v. Lipman, 74 AD3d 667, 668 [1st Dept. 2010]). A court has discretion when determining whether partition is an appropriate remedy, and must consider the equities between the parties, as well as whether a physical partition would cause prejudice (Id.Lauriello v. Gallotta, 70 AD3d 1009, 1010 [2d. Dept. 2010]). To allege a cause of action for partition, a party must plead: “(1) that the parties own the building as tenants in common and (2) that physical partition of the property would come at great prejudice to the owners” (MurrayRayeDebbie, LLC v. Rosenphil LLC, 172 AD3d 615, 615 [1st. Dept. 2019]). An accounting is “a necessary incident of almost every partition action and is had as a matter of right before the entry of either the interlocutory or final judgment” (Giglio v. Giglio, 46 AD2d 921, 921 [2d. Dept. 1974]; see also RPAPL § 945, indicating that the “court may adjust the rights of a party as against any other party by reason of the receipt by the latter of more than his proper proportion of the rents or profits of a share”).

Partition And Inherited Real Property In New York

When a person who holds an interest in real property dies intestate, his interest in the real property automatically vests by operation of law upon his heirs as tenants in common. See When Do Inherited Property Rights Vest In New York?

New York’s EPTL § 4-1.1 outlines what heirs at law inherit in an intestate estate.  We’ve written about intestate inheritance in:  New York Inheritance Laws With No Will and Next of Kin Under New York Law.

Here, since the New York Surrogate’s Court invalidated the will, New York’s laws of intestate succession governed who owned the property when decedent died.  Plaintiffs, as decedent’s siblings, inherited her interest in the real property upon her death.

The Supreme Court of King’s County had no problem determining that plaintiffs sufficiently established the first element of their partition cause of action, as well as their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law with respect to their first cause of action for a declaratory judgment that plaintiffs are “jointly 1/3 owners of the Property as tenants-in common.”  Since the property had been improved by a mixed-use structure, the property could not be divided without prejudicing the parties.

The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act Does Not Apply Retroactively

Defendant sought leave to amend its answer to add an affirmative defense claiming that the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act applies to the plaintiffs’ partition cause of action.  Defendant’s theory was that although the original complaint was filed on August 19, 2019 (before the UPHPA became effective on December 6, 2019), the filing of the amended complaint on January 22, 2020 commenced the action.

CPLR § 304(a) states that an action is commenced by the filing of a summons and complaint (CPLR § 304(a)).

CPLR § 203(f) indicates that claims in an amended complaint are “interposed” when the original complaint was filed, as long as the original complaint “give[s] notice of the transactions, occurrences, or series of transactions or occurrences to be proved pursuant to the amended [complaint]” (CPLR § 203(f)).

Here, the only difference between the initial and the amended complaint was the status of the plaintiffs as beneficiaries under the will in the initial complaint and as intestate heirs in the amended complaint.  The court determined that the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act does not apply to this action, stating:

The amendment is not material, since the amendment has no effect on the plaintiffs’ right to partition the property. Therefore, the amended complaint has no effect on the date the action was commenced (See also Valladares v. Valladares, 55 NY2d 388, 391 [1982], indicating that the action was commenced as of the service of the original complaint). Since the action was commenced on August 19, 2019, the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act does not apply to this action.

The court distinguished cases where an amended complaint might “commence” an action, such as when additional parties were added.

The UPHPA clearly states that it applies to actions commenced after a certain date.  Therefore, retroactive application was precluded in this partition action under New York law.