But for reasons that Ms. Greenfield can’t fully recall now, the women never moved. Ms. Greenfield said that Ms. Molloy sent Mr. Guerrieri a letter a short time later telling him that she wanted to return the deposit. He denied receiving such a letter.
“They never finished paying for the house. We thought that they changed their minds,” said Ms. Greenfield. “We never heard from them again.” (Mr. Guerrieri denied this as well.)
It wasn’t until 2005, when Ms. Molloy’s niece, Patricia Bonner, tried to take out a mortgage on the house to help pay Ms. Molloy’s medical bills that she discovered the lien.
Ms. Bonner, who was poised to inherit the house along with Ms. Greenfield, launched a legal battle to void the contract; it was a byzantine back-and-forth that consumed the last years of Ms. Molloy’s life.
When Ms. Molloy died at age 97 in 2007, Mr. Guerrieri filed a motion to take ownership of the home on the grounds that she had “vacated” the property. A judge ruled his favor and the couple was free collect their prize. Only, it wasn’t 1981 anymore, and $185,000 no longer sounded like a fair price.
The family wanted to appeal, according to their attorney Richard Schwartz, but they couldn’t afford to, so they agreed to settle for $500,000. What remained after four years of legal expenses was divided between Ms. Bonner and Ms. Greenfield.
“They got the house for practically nothing,” said Ms. Greenfield, “They took advantage. I mean it makes me think that I was a fool.”
The agreement had no parameters, no time limit at all, Mr. Schwartz told us. The contract, with no conditions, never should have been binding nearly 30 years after it was signed, he believed.
“It was one of the worst decisions of any court I’ve ever seen and I’ve been practicing law since 1953,” Mr. Schwartz told The Observer. “It was a travesty.”
He said they’d estimated the house, even in its state of disrepair, to be worth $3 million or perhaps $4 million.
The Observer told him the current asking price.
“That’s criminal, criminal!” he cried. But of course, it wasn’t the asking price that was criminal. It was just fair market value, or at least something close to it, in 2012.
Four days after the settlement was finalized, Ms. Greenfield was served with a 30-day notice of termination of tenancy. The home’s other occupants: a family and the two home health-care aides who had taken care of Ms. Molloy for 14 years and were now taking care of Ms. Greenfield, also received eviction notices. Mr. Guerrieri and Ms. Ordway also asked the court to direct Ms. Greenfield to pay $16,000 per month in use and occupancy fees during the eviction proceedings.
“I think Lu expected to live there for the rest of her life,” said block association president James Jasper.
Ms. Greenfield sought the help of the LGBT Law Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group. In the end, her NYLAG lawyer Virginia Goggin was able to negotiate for 11 months “rent free” for the residents.
“It was a terrible outcome,” said Ms. Goggin. “But I wasn’t able to do much because of that settlement. I wish that I had been able to handle the appeal. I don’t think they got a fair shake. I think the Guerrieris know what they’re doing—they’re very successful realtors. And I think that Ms. Greenfield and her domestic partner were taken advantage of whether it was intentional or not.”
Mr. Guerrieri and Ms. Ordway’s case was also helped by two seemingly contradictory passages in the will. Although Ms. Molloy clearly bequeathed her real property estate, “whatsoever kind and nature and wherever the same may be situated” to “my loving niece Patricia Bonner and my dear friend Lucille Greenfield,” she was also afraid to leave her aging partner in a house that she couldn’t take care of, according to Ms. Goggin, and included a troublesome passage in her will (a passage that Mr. Guerrieri quoted to prove that, in evicting Ms. Greenfield, he had done nothing contrary to Ms. Molloy’s wishes).
“My express intention is not to leave a life estate in the residence or any opportunity to remain in possession of the residence to Lucille Greenfield due to her failing health and concern for her limited financial ability to properly care for and maintain the residence during the remainder of her life,” it read.
Asked if marriage would have protected Ms. Greenfield, Ms. Goggin said it may have changed some things, especially in the first court battle, although not necessarily the outcome.
“I think she would have been treated differently,” Ms. Goggin said. “I don’t know if the outcome would have been different, but I think it would have gone down differently.”