Faith and Community

Third year student Vlad Tamayeff’s experience in real estate law helped to save a community synagogue from foreclosure. Now he looks to a future of helping others facing similar struggles.

October 03, 2013

Vlad's ties to his Jewish roots run deep and during his undergraduate studies he began to extensively study the Talmud. According to Vlad, "The Talmud, law, and life itself are all one in a mysterious way... The spirit of hard work and ethical study, with hair-splitting attention to detail and the possibilities of every side of the coin, are essential for both a successful lawyer and a successful Talmudist." It was this study of the Talmud that brought Vlad to Touro Law.

Soon after becoming a student at Touro Law, Vlad's faith and his community were in jeopardy and his ethics and studies were put to the test.  His local synagogue in Queens was being foreclosed upon, and eventually could have been auctioned by the bank. "I did research and was in a real estate transaction class and a non-profit clinic, so I was well prepared for the auction. I spoke to my family and suggested we could pool together to save the synagogue." At the auction, the money pooled by his family and community was enough to win back the synagogue. "When you see you're going to lose something completely, it gets more people involved... [The synagogue's] back; we've gotten it back together."

It was this experience that led him to alumna Maria DeGennaro's office at the Empire Justice Center. Vlad was taking a Civil Practice course which required him to pursue an externship in that field and Vlad, naturally, chose foreclosure defense.  Empire Justice Center is a statewide legal non-profit agency that is housed on the Touro Law campus in the Public Advocacy Center (PAC). The Empire Justice Center works to protect and strengthen the legal rights of poor, disabled or disenfranchised New Yorkers and has been advocating for families who are facing foreclosure for many years. In fact, Senior Staff Attorneys and Policy Analysts from Rochester and Albany had long identified Long Island as a particularly problematic area of the state: there are over 70,000 Long Islanders that need help with their foreclosure issues. The Empire Justice Center has authored The Long Island Foreclosure Crisis Report and Attorney and Regional Coordinator DeGennaro was hired to be a local presence for this work, which is funded by the NY State Office of the Attorney General. Vlad became acquainted with Maria's work, they connected at Empire Justice and he became an extern.

During his time with Empire Justice, Vlad had an amazing hands-on experience. He was able to work with legal service providers and housing counseling agencies, who advise clients on how to save their home from foreclosure. In one week, Vlad was able to meet with 4 clients, sitting in on interviews and learning first-hand about their experiences. According to Vlad, "It's one thing to know the legal aspect; it's another thing to actually learn how people practice. When I came to Empire Justice, I didn’t expect to be able to make such a lasting impact. This experience exceeded my expectations."

DeGennaro explains,“Vlad came to me with a passion to work in foreclosure defense. This was based on his experience in saving his own synagogue from foreclosure. He translated that experience into a desire to help homeowners in jeopardy of foreclosure. We certainly need the help here in Long Island, as over 40,000 homeowners are in foreclosure as of September 2013 and an additional 29,000 are 60 days late or more on their mortgage. Vlad studied the Empire Justice report, attended settlement conferences in Nassau and Suffolk and wrote a legal memo on the lack of good faith that banks utilize in negotiating with homeowners for modifications. He saw firsthand the unlevel playing field between the homeowners and the banks. His externship paper identified relevant case law and possible solutions to this problem.  Hopefully, Vlad will continue to pursue this work once he graduates.  He is special in that he recognizes the importance of standing up and fighting for what you believe in… whether it be your house of worship… or your client’s home.”

Vlad's story is one of struggle and triumph. "The Talmudic sages teach in the Midrash on Exodus that all beginnings are difficult... My path... was no exception." Through his courses at Touro Law he was able to save his local synagogue from foreclosure. Now, Vlad hopes to work with others facing similar situations after he graduates in December 2013.