Last month we spoke about some tips for new home buyers in New York State when purchasing home owners insurance, and we solicited the help of my friend Bill Allen, an independent insurance broker at the William C. Allen Insurance Agency, Mineola, NY 11501. Here are some ways to try to lower those costs:

1) Consider installing a security system and smoke detectors: A security system that is monitored by a central station alarm company or notifies the police directly will typically provide a 5% discount. Smoke detectors are a standard safety feature in new homes and should be installed in older homes. Having them may not only save a life but could also reduce the cost of insurance.

2) Raise the deductible. Higher deductibles equal reduced premiums: A homeowner willing to take a greater portion of the risk by agreeing to paying a higher deductible in the event of a claim, will pay a much lower premium. Since insurance should only be used for catastrophic events and never for small claims, it makes sense to have higher deductible.

So, you are buying a house in the suburbs of New York City and you want to rely upon the Mortgage Contingency to protect your hard earned down payment. But, what if the bank offers you a smaller mortgage than you applied for because the appraisal came in low? Did your attorney protect you with an “Appraisal Clause?”

Every homebuyer wants to get a good deal, but how can you prevent overpaying for your new property? And why is it so important? The key to making sure the price is right is to make sure you have an appraisal and that your sales contract includes an appraisal clause.

An appraisal is a detailed report, created by an independent professional, to establish the value of the home you are buying. The value is what other buyers would pay in a competitive market. Most appraisers will compare the home you want to other homes in the neighborhood that recently sold. The appraiser will make adjustments for the unique features of your home.

Let’s face it– the purchase of a home is a life altering, stressful and often expensive proposition with hidden fees, costs, and expenses. Many times, a Mortgage Commitment comes from the bank with the requirement that the new homeowner purchase home owner insurance. My clients often call the agent who issued their automobile policy and ask for insurance, but they don’t ask the right questions, or make assumptions that hamper them later– particularly when they need that policy to respond to some sort of loss. I took up this issue with my friend and compatriate in the real estate world– William C. Allen, William C. Allen Insurance Agency, 372 Willis Avenue Mineola, NY 11501. Here are some helpful insurance tips.

Although it is an intangible product, insurance is the safety net that fills the gap when things go terribly wrong so adequately protecting a home, usually one’s largest asset, is essential. Considering the high costs associated with buying a home, many new homeowners make the mistake of trying to save money by purchasing the most inexpensive insurance they can find. This does not mean they should overpay, but inexpensive policies often omit or limit coverage and may contain exclusions (things that aren’t covered) that could end up costing the homeowner more in the long run if a loss occurs.

First time home buyers should ask trusted friends, family members or their attorney for a referral to an experienced insurance agent who can explain the various nuances associated with homeowners insurance. Because an agent’s job is to manage risk, a good one will include in the discussion what the coverages are, what different insurance companies have to offer and, lastly, ways to limit the cost of the insurance.

Restaurants try to provide a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere, so their diners enjoy a nice experience, . . . . romantic, relaxing, . . . not their customer’s home. Often, ambience and mood includes music, but your favorite spot might be dishing out copyright infringement in addition to the special of the day.

A copyright is the exclusive right to perform an artistic piece such as a song. It protects the person who created the work from unauthorized (unpaid for) use of the song. Federal law governs copyrights, which means that the law is the same regardless of whether the restaurant or bar is in New York, or another state. There is a struggle for the artists who created the songs to manage the license to play the music in a public establishment (a mini-booking fee). Some restaurants and bars actually acquire a license to play songs and television on the radio or over the speakers and televisions installed at your favorite dining establishment. More and more, as music moves to the digital environment, licensing companies are pursuing these small restaraunts and bars to “enforce” their claimed right to copyrighted work. So, when does the restaraunt need such license?

Generally speaking, restaurants with 3,750 gross square feet, excluding areas used only for parking, do not need licenses to play music and televisions. But what about restaurants with more than 3,750 gross square feet? Those establishments do not need licenses to perform music if any of the following apply:

Who knows the most about your house? Its history, its features, its quirks, its problems? The answer is you, the seller. As someone about to sell a New York home, consult your lawyer (not your realtor) about the Property Disclosure Statement. Under New York State Law, you have a decision to make– complete a 35 question exam about your house, or give a $500 credit for not disclosing to buyers.

This disclosure or admission is part of New York’s Property Condition Disclosure Act, which became law in 2002. The law applies to all land that is improved by one to four family dwellings that are used or intended to be used as residences. Condominiums, cooperatives, vacant land to be used for construction, and certain other forms of ownership are exempt from disclosure.

It sounds simple, but the law demands much more than saying, “My home is in excellent condition!” or “My home is great!” In fact, the Act requires sellers to complete a six-page form that includes questions ranging from the age of your house to whether your property ever contained a fuel storage tank to whether you have ever tested the water quality and flow.

After various district attorneys around the state found that homeowners were cheating the system, the New York State Legislature is poised to make all home owners RE-REGISTER for the STAR exemption which can result in a reduction of school taxes. According to recent reports, homeowners will have a year to re-apply for the program, with a deadline of April 1, 2014.

Under the STAR program, New York homeowners who make less than $500,000 and live in their property are eligible, making the the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes. New Yorkers 65 and older may qualify for the enhanced STAR program. That exempts the first $63,300 of the full value of a home.

Homeowners can apply for the STAR exemption on the website of the state Taxation and Finance Department.

Shaw Industries Group, a leading carpet manufacturer recently sued The Hershey Company in Federal Court in Georgia for a declaratory judgment that its Chocolate Kiss colored carpet did not infringe Hershey’s CHOCOLATE KISS trademark.

According to the complaint, Shaw has been using CHOCOLATE KISS as a color in connection with its carpets since 1993 and has used it in connection with 200 carpet styles since that time. Shaw received a cease and desist letter from Hershey’s in December of 2012 which claimed that the use of the CHOCOLATE KISS mark illegally diluted and infringed its trademark. Despite its almost 20 years of use of the Chocolate Kiss color name, Shaw claimed that this December letter was the first time that it was notified that Hershey’s objected to the use. In its response to Hershey’s cease and desist letter, Shaw noted that it was discontinuing use of the CHOCOLATE KISS colored carpets in June of 2013.

Apparently dissatisfied with Shaw’s response to its cease and desist letter, Hershey’s sent a responsive letter demanding that Shaw “immediately” discontinue the carpet. Shaw responded by commencing the lawsuit. Given the planned phaseout of the Chocolate Kiss colored carpet, it is doubtful that this case will ever go to trial, however, it presents an interesting issue of whether products named after popular goods and services do infringe or dilute the trademarks in those goods. In light of Shaw’s long use of this carpet color, another interesting issue would be whether the defense of laches would be sustained by the court. Laches is a defense to certain actions based upon the right holder failing object or do something to curtail the illegal use.

It seems to be getting a little more risky to post negative online reviews. A Virginia Court recently ordered that certain negative online reviews of a home improvement contractor be removed from Yelp.com, pending a trial for defamation against the reviewer.

The reviewer, apparently unsatisfied with the work performed by the contractor at her home, posted negative comments on the websites of Yelp and Angie’s List, alleging that the contractor caused damage to her home and that jewelry had gone missing after the contractor performed work at her home. A civil suit is currently pending against the reviewer who posted the negative comments seeking $750,000 in damages for defamation of the contractor.

While this isn’t the first defamation case arising from a negative online review, these lawsuits are fairly uncommon. Although the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects websites like Yelp and Angie’s List from lawsuits relating to negative reviews posted by their users, the individuals posting such reviews are not immune from liability. In New York, like most other states, a claim for defamation arises when a person makes a false statement resulting in harm to another person’s reputation. Although there are a number of defenses that can prevent a plaintiff from succeeding in recovering damages on a defamation claim, proving that the statement is true is always a defense to such a claim.

For most things in life the original is better than its copy. In the context of wills and estate probate, the original is generally required. So, when may the heirs offer a copy of someone’s will to probate in New York?

In New York, a copy of the orignal will may be offered to probate if the administrator or executor can establish that: (1) the will was not revoked; (2) execution of the will was proved in the manner required for the probate of an original will; >and (3) all provisions of the will are clearly and distinctly proven by each of at least two credible witnesses or by a copy of the will proved to be true and complete. See New York Surrogate Court Practice Act § 1407.

Surrogate courts are not going to absolutely accept a copy for probate without strong proof of each of the foregoing elements because the law generally presumes that if there was no original, it was revoked by the person who died. That is, a will that is “shown to have existed,” and was in the testator’s possession at the time of their death, that will is presumed destroyed by the testator and, therefore, revoked. See In Re Evans, 264 A.D.2d 484 (2d Dep’t 1999). By introduction of the statute, the presumption may be “rebutted,” by showing all the three elements. Where the Testator had the last will and testament in her possession at death, the law takes extra steps to protect the presumption that the dead person did NOT intentionally revoke the will. Afterall, the testator cannot explain their desires.

The American Bar Association just released the latest survey of legal malpractice claims showing some interesting results. For the first time, real estate claims represented the greatest number of claims (20.33%), followed by plaintiffs’ personal injury (15.59%), family law (12.14%), estates, trust and probate (10.67%), and collection and bankruptcy (9.2%). While there are some caveats to the survey, – for example, the survey did not differentiate disciplinary proceedings from actual malpractice claims – the results may provide an illustration of trends in legal practice.

The study revealed that the number of claims payments exceeding $2 million has declined. It is not clear whether this may have been caused by larger firms underreporting larger dollar claims or increased reporting by all insured groups. However, it may show a general trend toward settlement of malpractice claims or juries’ unwillingness to award large payouts at trial.

The survey also showed that although substantive errors still generate the largest portion of claims at 45.07%, the share of claims relating to administrative errors is 30.13% – an all time high. In addition, the number of claims arising out of alleged intentional wrongs has decreased to 10.19% from 13.53% in 2007 – a good sign that the legal profession is evolving in a positive way.