The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the stipulation waiving defendant’s payment of rent as long as the closing on defendant’s purchase of the property occurred by a designated date did not inform defendant “time was of the essence” such that plaintiff could keep the down payment:
Sometime after the parties entered into the contract, the defendant commenced a landlord-tenant proceeding against the plaintiff, which the parties settled in a stipulation dated February 16, 2011. Paragraph 2 of the stipulation provided that “[i]n settlement and satisfaction of all claims by [the plaintiff], and in consideration of [the plaintiff] closing title on the purchase of 1474 Ralph Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, no later than March 31, 2011, [the defendant] waives the rent due for July 2010.” The closing never occurred. * * *
Where, as here, “time was not made of the essence in the original contract” … , “one party may make time of the essence by giving proper notice to the other party” … and avail himself [or herself] of forfeiture on default” … . “The notice setting a new date for the closing must (1) give clear, distinct, and unequivocal notice that time is of the essence, (2) give the other party a reasonable time in which to act, and (3) inform the other party that if he [or she] does not perform by the designated date, he [or she] will be considered in default” … . “A party need not state specifically that time is of the essence, as long as the notice specifies a time on which to close and warns that failure to close on that date will result in default” … . It does not matter that the date is unilaterally set … , and “[w]hat constitutes a reasonable time for performance depends upon the facts and circumstances of the particular case” … .
… [T]he stipulation did not inform the plaintiff that if he did not perform, he would be considered in default … . Lashley v BDL Real Estate Dev. Corp., 2023 NY Slip Op 00314, Second Dept 1-25-23
Practice Point: To trigger “time is of the essence” the defendant must be informed that failure to close the real estate purchase by the designated date will place the defendant in default.