Sellers refuse to sign deed, what's the crime?

Bought house in 1984, paid for in full in 1990 and I've paid all taxes. Deed was in lawyer's office waiting to be registered when I discovered he'd misappropriated the check I wrote to the three sellers. He was sent to Federal Prison and his wife was so angry she burned all the papers in his office including my deed. I had two deeds drawn up since, 1st one, 1 of the 3 refused to sign, 2nd one, 2 refused to sign. I'm in NY, they live in FL. What does the law say re this, and can I sue?

Crown Point, NY -

Attorney Answers (5)

Steven Warren Smollens

Steven Warren Smollens

Real Estate Attorney - New York, NY
Answered

Dear Property Owner:

You have been dealing with this problem alone for a long time , and so, you should not be frustrated by answers provides by attorneys in an online public forum cannot absorb all the information you are trying to provide.

The best I can see for you, is with proof of your land contract, and from your county that you paid the local, county, and school taxes, for more than twenty years, that you may proceed to a route of ownership by a claim of adverse possession, or you may proceed by a lawsuit for specific performance, or by a lawsuit to quiet title; but no matter what you do, you will need a lawyer. The defendant former owners are not located in New York. New York long arm jurisdiction may apply (transactions involving real property, contracts), but if not, you may need to use a federal court. You just cannot do this without an attorney putting your claim together and working out the complex issues relating to jurisdiction.

It does not matter whether there may be a crime. You need a District Attorney to decide if prosecution is warranted and even then, the defendants are in Florida.

You may consider re-writing the question or just consulting with a local attorney.

Good luck.

The answer provided to you is in the nature of general information. The general proposition being that you should... more
Richard J. Chertock

Richard J. Chertock

Real Estate Attorney - Melville, NY
Answered

If I understand your question correctly then you have a failure of consideration in that the seller never got their money. Therefore you do not own the house. If you have since given all the money to the sellers you can bring a quiet title action to declare title to the premises in your name and have the clerk docket the property in your name. If not, you can bring a claim against the attorney through the IOLA fund if the money went through his escrow account or through his malpractice carrier. You should probably retain an attorney to review all of this.

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Thomas J Callahan

Thomas J Callahan

Real Estate Attorney - Hanover, MA
Answered

So I assume you are a co-owner with the other 3? Is there a contract that reflects the transaction other than the burned deed? If so, an attorney should review first to see if it is still valid and can be enforced. If not, you may have to instigate a partition proceeding, which would force a sale of the property and division of the proceeds. The sale might not be to you. The division would be equal, but subject to your claim for added contribution since 1990, although if you live there, your tax payments might be viewed as rent. In my state, a partition case, because of its added costs and sales commissions, has a way of motivating the other owners to settle with you. All turns on whether you have a binding agreement still at this time. Any problem with taking a deed from those willing to sell, to at least increase your ownership share?

To questioners from West Virginia & New York: Although I am licensed to practice in your state, I practice on a... more
Michael T Millar

Michael T Millar

Real Estate Attorney - Toms River, NJ
Answered

I am not sure I understand the facts.

Did the attorney steal the money you paid to purchase the property or the money to file the deed or both?

If the attorney stole the purchase money, then you may not own the home because the sellers were never paid. They would not be required to sign a deed if they were not paid. You might have an adverse possession claim.

If the attorney stole only the recording fees and the original deed was destroyed, then file an action to quiet title.

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Michael C. Wild

Michael C. Wild

Real Estate Attorney - Williamsville, NY
Answered

If I understand the facts, you are in possession of a land contract. You paid on the land contract, and have not yet received the deed. And at some point during the performance of the land contract, the sellers' attorney misappropriated the funds, leaving the sellers unpaid? And in that same interim period, the spouse of the attorney in issue destroyed all of his files, including the original deed (which the sellers now refuse to replace)?

The sellers appear justified in not delivering a deed to you, but you are not necessarily left without remedy. You should contact a real estate attorney promptly. You likely need to commence a quiet title action. Contact an attorney promptly and schedule a consultation.

This communication is intended only to provide general information. No attorney-client relationship is created.

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