AABANY Real Estate Committee Presents “Cannabis Law and Real Estate” CLE on August 3

On August 3, the AABANY Real Estate Committee presented a “Cannabis Law and Real Estate” CLE, which explored the current state of real estate in New York State, within the context of recent cannabis legalization and a growing cannabis industry. Real Estate Committee Co-Chair Margaret Ling moderated the webinar, welcoming four speakers to introduce and explain current cannabis law and real estate practices, before opening the floor for a Q&A session.

Kristin Jordan spoke first, giving a broad overview of New York State’s adult use cannabis bill, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (“MRTA”), which was passed on March 31, 2021. Kristin is the Executive Director of Asian Cannabis Roundtable, a NYC-based professional networking community for those engaged in the cannabis industry, and Founder of Mannada. She explained how the bill positioned the state’s new cannabis regulatory body under the State Liquor Authority, because developing an entirely new agency would take too long. The new body comprises three agencies, the Office of Cannabis Management, the Cannabis Control Board, and the Cannabis Advisory Board. She also enumerated the different kinds of cannabis licenses available under the MRTA:

  1. Cultivator,
  2. Processor,
  3. Cooperative (non-profit),
  4. Distributor,
  5. Retail,
  6. Microbusiness,
  7. Delivery,
  8. Nursery, and
  9. On-site consumption.

In terms of New York real estate, Kristin noted that cannabis legalization and its budding industry would exact the most tangible effect on leases for retail stores, warehouses, and distribution facilities, because they provide the brick and mortar for cannabis businesses. Finally, she emphasized that since cannabis legalization is so recent, cannabis law and best practices promise a steep learning curve, with so much uncharted territory.

Steve LaFredo, Chief Banking Officer at Piermont Bank, discussed cannabis and real estate specifically as it relates to banking. He emphasized that “banks are safety, soundness, and risk organizations first”; in other words, banking is a slow industry, and it would take time for banks to adapt to the growing cannabis industry. He underscored the difficulty of navigating often differing state and federal law when dealing with cannabis businesses, though he noted that New York State has been relatively progressive, as the first state to create cannabis banking guidelines under the Department of Taxation and Finance. These guidelines aim to preserve the safety, soundness, and security of businesses involved with cannabis. Steve explained that in states that have legalized cannabis, the banking industry tiers cannabis businesses into 3 categories: Tier A, those with direct contact (e.g. growing, producing, selling); Tier B, those that derive more than 25% of their business from the cannabis space; and Tier C, those that derive 25% or less of their business from the cannabis space. Banks are most likely to be receptive to working with Tier C cannabis businesses.

Since they lie precariously between state and federal regulators, most banks have a zero tolerance policy for cannabis. Disclosure and transparency are critical for finding a financial institution with which cannabis businesses can safely operate; smaller, private banks and credit unions will be most likely to open their doors to cannabis businesses. Unfortunately, cannabis businesses are still largely relegated to cash transactions, and since mechanisms for depositing and delivering cash are scarce and expensive, banks are hesitant to get involved. After the federal decision to stand down in states that have legalized cannabis, however, banks have slowly begun entering the cannabis space. Steve expressed optimism about the future of cannabis banking.

Kathleen Deegan Dickson and Danielle Tricolla of Forchelli Deegan Terrana spoke last, focusing on the role of the law firm in the cannabis space. Kathleen is a Partner and Co-Chair of the Cannabis Group at Forchelli Deegan Terrana, and Danielle is an Associate and Co-Chair of the Cannabis Group at Forchelli Deegan Terrana. They underscored the importance of “knowing what you don’t know,” since cannabis legalization not only means new legislation but also changes to existing legislation. Specifically, cannabis legalization involves changes to Public Health Law, Penal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Civil Practice Law and Rules, Labor Law, Vehicle and Traffic Law, and General Business Law. Like Steve, they touched on the interplay between state legalization and federal prohibition of cannabis. Devoting special attention to law firm clients interested in cannabis, they explained that “cannabis law” is a multidisciplinary practice area, since it affects real estate transactions, leasing, land use, zoning, banking, labor, and employment, among other areas.

The intersection of cannabis law and real estate presents a new and exciting business area, and AABANY thanks the Real Estate Committee Co-Chairs Margaret Ling, Wendy Yu, and Jane Chen for putting together such an informative and current event. To learn more about the Real Estate Committee, visit https://www.aabany.org/page/120.

AABANY Congratulates Libin Zhang on Getting Published in the New York Law Journal

Libin Zhang, Partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver, & Jacobson in New York

The Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) congratulates Tax Committee Co-Chair Libin Zhang on his recent law review article about the proposed Pied-à-Terre tax impact on Real Estate in the New York Law Journal.

The article begins as follows:

It is no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has reduced New York City’s government revenues: sales taxes are down due to a decline in retail sales, there is less use of public transportation, and some individuals have moved out of the city. But as the late 20th century American proverb goes, in every crisis there is opportunity. A revised “pied-à-terre tax” has been introduced in both chambers of the New York State Legislature, which would create an annual property tax of up to 13.5% on certain residential properties with assessed values of $300,000 or more.

Although the latest pied-à-terre tax proposal is an improvement on prior versions, for example by no longer imposing the tax on most rental properties, some issues and questions remain.  The tax, if enacted, may affect New York City real estate.

To read the full article, click here (subscription required).

AABANY Presents: Real Estate Closing in the New Norm: The New Rules & Practices

On July 23, AABANY’s Real Estate Committee presented a CLE Program on real estate closings in the COVID-19 era. The panel focused on how the real estate market is adapting to COVID-19 through new rules and practices and detailed the current state of property transactions. Speakers included Jason Wang, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at COMPASS, Wendy Yu, Counsel at Yu Law, and Jane Chen, Associate at Forchelli Deegan Terrana LLP. The program was moderated by Margaret Ling, co-chair of the committee and Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corporation.

Margaret Ling began the panel with an update on the current New York state real estate legal landscape. This included the 202 executive order mandate by Governor Andrew Cuomo, declaring a state of emergency to permit only essential businesses. As a result, most real estate showings are now virtual and transactions are digital. Open houses are permitted only if social distancing measures are maintained.

Jason Wang spoke on his experience as a real estate salesperson at the inception of the pandemic and shared market observations. Because of at-home quarantine, buyers have begun to realize what they want in a home property and so there is a continued demand for property. Additionally, residents who fled New York City during the pandemic on-set may return in the near future and strengthen the real estate market.

Wendy Yu then outlined client protection concerns during virtual transactions. This includes taking into account that many buyers are now making offers without ever seeing property in person, emphasizing the need to place buyer protection clauses in contracts. Other considerations involve death clauses, in case that one party is no longer capable of continuing the transaction, as well as maintaining a flexible approach, so that either seller or buyer may be granted extra transaction time in case of pandemic-related challenges.

Jane concluded the panel by providing insight into co-op property transactions. Specifically, co-op boards that typically meet on a regular basis are now meeting less frequently, making it difficult for potential buyers to be interviewed for acceptance. Furthermore, because co-op boards are responsible for serving the interests of all building residents, it is important for interested buyers to keep in mind the visitor restrictions that exist in these communities.

Thank you to speakers Jason Wang, Wendy Yu, and Jane Chen for their time and insight, and Margaret Ling for moderating. Those interested in learning more about AABANY’s Real Estate Committee can do so here

AABANY Presents: Avoiding Real Property Disputes in Divorce Matters In the Aftermath of COVID-19

On June 25, AABANY presented a CLE Program on divorce property disputes in the context of COVID-19, featuring panelists from practitioners in matrimonial law and real estate law. The panel outlined influences of the pandemic upon real property disputes in divorce proceedings, and recounted actual cases to demonstrate. Speakers included Margaret Ling, Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corp. and Co-Chair of the AABANY Real Estate Committee; Derrick Rubin, trial attorney associate at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates; Jerome Wisselman, Managing Partner at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates; and Irene Angelakis, Founding Owner at Law Offices of Irene Angelakis. 

Derrick Rubin began by discussing the basic considerations of property disputes. Family homes are typically the largest asset, and disputes center around who gets the house, whether or not to sell, or if one spouse should buy out another. Another necessary consideration is the legal theory of equitable distribution, which emphasizes a fair rather than equal distribution of property on the basis of various factors. Some examples include how long the parties were married, their individual needs, and the financial contribution each party made during the marriage.

Margaret Ling then outlined examples from past cases to demonstrate the benefits of in-person dealings and how remote demands of COVID-19 impose challenges. In a Chase Bank refinance transaction, a couple sought a $2 million refinance on their condo. However, the lawyer noticed the husband seemed nervous, the wife was fidgeting, and her identification appeared fake. Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that the husband was in the midst of a divorce and had brought his girlfriend in an attempt to make property adjustments while his wife was traveling — not permitted under domestic relations law which forbids property adjustments without spousal approval. Today, legal transactions that depend upon accurate identification must come up with new solutions. 

Irene Angelakis continued the discussion with tips on how to avoid disputes during the pandemic and also raised ethical considerations. She talked about taking into account pandemic-induced income changes, a common circumstance today, by giving parties more realistic timelines to decide on refinancing. Another involved taking social distancing precautions if both parties decide to sell the house. The most important takeaway is that both parties should try to settle property disputes because the courts and trials are limited options during COVID-19. Irene concluded with the topic of ethics by discussing disclosure requirements, matrimonial retainer agreements, fee disputes and escrow. 

A final topic explored by Jerome Wisselman was asset protection. Asset protection, through prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements, are preventative legal measures taken to avoid property disputes during divorce. Provision of detailed financial statements by both parties, addressing potential future investment returns, and deciding on whether retirement benefits will be separate or together, are necessary for the creation of a fair and accurate asset protection agreement. The main takeaway is that current divorce property disputes that have been further complicated by COVID-19 circumstances may have been avoided if more asset protection agreements existed.

Thank you to all the panelists for their valuable time and insights, and thanks to the Real Estate Committee for organizing this timely and informative CLE program. To view the recording of the CLE, click on the image at the top. If you would like to learn more about AABANY’s Real Estate Committee, click here: https://www.aabany.org/page/120