Hurricane Sandy House Case

Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on Long Island in many communities. One family had already resolved their contested divorce case and had agreed to list their home for sale at $1,399,000 which was the listing price just before the hurricane hit Long Island on October 29, 2012. The ex-wife had exclusive occupancy of the house and the ex-husband was obligated to pay 1/2 of certain charges until January 1, 2013. The parties' divorce agreement had a schedule of 5% price reductions to be followed if the house was not in contract within stated periods.

The storm did extensive and substantial damage to the interior and exterior of the home. The ex-husband due to the major damage and the immediate decline in the real estate market for waterfront property wanted the house sold immediately "as is" without performing repairs. The ex-wife instead engaged contractors for repairs, hired a public adjuster and was slow to decrease the price of the home which eventually sold for $500,000 plus an insurance reimbursement of $250,000.

The ex-husband claimed that Hurricane Sandy was an unforeseen event that made it impossible to continue listing the house at prices that the real estate market would not support. He also proved that the ex-wife did not let him in to inspect the home for six months after the storm and did not seek his approval for any of the repairs, hiring of contractors or the public adjuster. The ex-husband wanted to be relieved of the obligation to pay house charges incurred after the storm due to the ex-wife's failure to cooperate as referenced in the agreement.

The Court reduced the ex-husband's obligations finding that the storm was an event with unforeseen, unpredictable and devastating consequences that permitted the divorce agreement to be modified. The Court reduced the obligations of the ex-husband from 50% to 25%.

The moral of this story is that communication and cooperation are critically necessary to show good faith if you are going to seek to enforce your settlement agreement. Events can occur that could not have been predicted and the Court will look at what you said, wrote and did to determine what is just and equitable.