Isaac Brokaw bought a plot on 5th Avenue in NYC and built a palace there.
Upon his death, he left P life tenancy in the mansion.
The will used the term "my residence" in giving P the life tenancy.
P argued that the mansion was making him lose money each year; if he were allowed to convert the building to apartments, he could make a profit.
Ds are the remaindermen who hold a future interest in the property; they do not wish the property to be changed in such a way and argue that the proposed demolition is waste.
NY County Supreme Court held for Ds, demolition not allowed.
May a life tenant demolish his inherited building against the wishes of the remaindermen if the as is property is less valuable than it would be if demolished?
A life tenant may not demolish his inherited building against the wishes of the remaindermen even if the property would be more valuable if demolished. Such action would constitute waste.
There is no doubt that the life tenancy left to P was the land as well as the residence constructed upon it.
The will used the words "my residence" 4 times in the provision granting the life tenancy.
It has been generally recognized that any act of the life tenant which does permanent injury to the inheritance is waste.
The life tenant may only do whatever is necessary for the general use and enjoyment of his estate as he received it.
The tenant has not right to exercise an act of ownership.
He is entitled to use the building and plot reasonably for his own convenience and profit. To demolish that building and erect upon the land another building would be the exercise of ownership and dominion.
Financially, the remaindermen may be unwise in not consenting to the proposed change.
With motives and purposes, this court is not concerned.
(May be that the remaindermen owned property nearby and did not want an apartment building abutting their land.)
It is not waste for the tenant to erect a new edifice upon the demised premises, provided it can be done without destroying or materially injuring the building.
He has no right to make improvements which will materially and permanently change the nature of the property so as to render it impossible for him to restore the same premises at the expiration of the term.
In Melms v. Pabst Brewing Co., demolition was allowed; however, the facts of that case are distinguishable from the facts here.
The property there became valueless for the purpose of a residence property due to the growth and development of the city.
Also, the demolisher thought he was the owner in fee simple of the property.