When Muriel Horowitz transferred the deed of her million-dollar Great Neck home to UJA-Federation in 1992, it allowed her to live there for the rest of her life and for her son, Sandy, to be given a reasonable amount of time to remove her belongings after her death.
She died last March 3 and on Monday, a judge in Mineola, L.I., will be asked to define what constitutes a reasonable amount of time.
Officials of UJA-Federation, who wish to sell the house, said Horowitz assured them that the end of 1998 was ample time. When the house was still not emptied in December, they changed the locks.
“Her son had a reasonable amount of time to remove the furnishing from the house, at which point UJA-Federation planned to sell the house and use the proceeds for charitable purposes,” said Ellen Zimmerman, the organization’s general counsel. “He had the keys to the house and we could not show it. On numerous occasions, both in writing and on the phone, we requested that Mr. Horowitz remove the property from the house so we could sell it.”
Horowitz, who lives in California and is continuing the family’s real estate business, said he could not do anything until he officially became executor of his mother’s estate in June. And he said he had to give his mother’s friend, who had been staying in the house, time to relocate. That, too, didn’t occur until June. In addition, he said he had to arrange the sale of his mother’s home in Florida and to attend to estate taxes, which had to be settled within six months of her death.
He said he did get rid of some items in the house and had packed others, but that he had no siblings to help and it was a big undertaking.
On Sept. 14, Zimmerman wrote that Horowitz had earlier promised to have the house vacant by Sept. 1 and that UJA-Federation would begin immediately trying to sell it.
“We are assuming that all your personal property has been removed from the house — if it has not, we will contact you to let you know where you may pick it up,” she wrote.
Horowitz said he was furious at the tone of the letter and complained to a lay leader of the organization. A month or two later, he said, he contacted a real estate broker and asked her to handle the sale of the house because he still had valuables there and “didn’t want any other brokers going in.” He said he told UJA-Federation officials of this arrangement and heard nothing again until an appraiser he hired in January told him the locks had been changed.
“I was outraged,” said Horowitz, who said that while UJA-Federation may own the home legally, he is upset with how the charity has treated him.
“They have never written me a letter of condolence about my mom’s death,” he said. “And UJA called two weeks after my mom died trying to find out when I was going to leave.”
He noted that his mother was a “fervent worker for UJA for years and a very big donor.”
In a statement, UJA-Federation said this has “surely been an emotional and difficult time for him and we have tried to be sensitive to his needs. UJA-Federation has made countless efforts to arrange with Mr. Horowitz and his attorneys the removal of personal items from the house. … We are confident that Mr. Horowitz’s issues can be easily and amicable resolved, and we continue to believe that a mutually satisfactory resolution will be reached so that we may carry out his mother’s wishes.”