New York’s Premier
Tenants’ Rights Law Firm
Serge Joseph, a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph LLP, has devoted his entire professional career to protecting the homes of his clients in disputes with the State, City, landlords, banks, developers, and cooperative or condominium boards. He is often at the epicenter of NYC’s contentious and ever-changing real estate laws. With nearly three decades of legal experience, successfully representing New Yorkers in all facets of residential real estate litigation matters and in all forums, Serge is a highly regarded and well-respected attorney, with many noteworthy and significant victories.
In 2019, Serge secured a groundbreaking victory with his decisive win at the New York State Court of Appeals in Kuzmich vs. 50 Murray and West vs. BCRE-90 West, which brought approximately 7,000 apartments in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District under the protection of the rent stabilization laws due to the building owners’ receipt of tax benefits under the 421-g program. This was a huge win for residential tenants in lower Manhattan’s Financial District. It was a culmination of Serge’s tenacious ten-year battle with some of NYC’s most powerful real estate interests and their political allies, beginning with the seminal decision in W Associates v. Scott, in December 2009, which was featured in news articles by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other publications.
Serge has also effectively defended homeowners in both judicial and non-judicial foreclosures, guiding his clients through what can be an emotionally fraught and Sisyphean legal process, from pre-litigation settlement discussions, all the way through contentious motion practice and appeals. Currently, Serge is representing a number of shareholders of HDFC cooperatives in Third Party or modified in-rem foreclosure proceedings instituted by the City. One Court, adopting Serge’s arguments, has rejected the City’s attempts to use such proceedings to take properties from their owners, most of whom are members of communities of color, finding that doing so would not only be “arbitrary” but would “result in unequal treatment”.
Serge also represents owners in conflicts with neighboring building owners and developers, in securing for his clients fair temporary license agreements, reasonable monthly license fees, and reimbursement of professional costs, and appropriate protective measures to ensure against incidental damage to his clients’ properties. Where necessary, he has also represented clients in litigation against unauthorized physical intrusions and trespasses.
Serge has been in the forefront of defending tenants against building owners’ attempts to exit the highly heralded and successful middle-income Mitchell-Lama housing development program. Over the years, he has represented a number of Mitchell-Lama tenants associations throughout the City, including at Eastwood in Roosevelt Island, Lionel Hampton in Harlem, Noble Mansion and Fordham House in the Bronx, Linden House in Brooklyn, among others. He has in some cases successfully defeated attempts to leave the program; and in others, secured protections for his clients in the form of rent-stabilized-like leases.
Serge has also effectively litigated disputes arising out of commercial leases. He has successfully represented commercial clients throughout New York with applications for Yellowstone and preliminary injunctions. He has extensive experience and the enforcement of guaranties and promissory notes. He also represents clients in sale and purchase contracts of commercial and residential real estate.
Serge is often quoted in many New York real-estate publications that seek his professional opinion as an expert on real estate and landlord-tenant related matters. He is a co-host of the weekly television show, Tenant Action Today, produced by Met Council on Housing, the citywide tenants union. He has served on a number of boards, including Legal Services for New York City, and Queens Legal Services.
Serge regularly lectures and delivers seminars on issues of concern to tenants, shareholders and condominium owners. He was a faculty member at the New York State Bar Association, CLE Program, “Landlord & Tenant Law Update”; Board of Judges of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Judicial Conference, “Defending the Commercial Tenant in Summary Proceedings”; Association of Housing Court Judges, “Landlord & Tenant Law”; and the he Brooklyn Bar Association, Faculty, “The ABCs of Landlord & Tenant Law”. Serge has also provided testimony to HPD on proposed Amendments to HPD Mitchell-Lama Regulations; to DHCR on proposed Amendments to DHCR Demolition Regulations; and to the City Council on HPD’s Third Party Transfer Program.
He is a member of Metropolitan Black Bar Association, and the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York (“HALANY”). He was recently honored by HALANY as a "living hero in the law and in the Haitian community."
Some of Serge’s other noteworthy cases include:
KSLM Columbus Apartments vs. DHCR – New York State Court of Appeals defeating the landlord’s attempt to dramatically increase the rents of thousands of tenants residing in former Mitchell-Lama buildings, which exited the program and became subject to rent stabilization.
US Bank vs. Carolyn Murphy– Supreme Court of New York decision, where homeowner’s mortgage was found unenforceable, and foreclosure action dismissed with prejudice.
Impac Funding Corp.v. Guirand, Supreme Court of New York decision, where the Court denied Bank’s motion for a default judgment of foreclosure, finding that the Bank’s “motion is so procedurally and substantively deficient nearly to the point of being frivolous within the meaning of 22 NYCRR 130-1.1”.
University Prop. LLC v. Vartanian, Appellate Division decision, affirming the lower Court’s dismissal of the Landlord’s declaratory judgment action based on non-primary residence, and award of attorneys’ fees to tenants.
Columbus 95th St, LLC v. DHCR, Appellate Division decision, affirming DHCR’s amendment of the RSC to no longer allow landlords to seek rent increases based upon “unique or peculiar” circumstances based merely upon taking their buildings out of the Mitchell Lama program.
Golden Horse Realty, Inc. vs. DHCR – Appellate Division decision, affirmed that apartment’s illegal use does not preclude it from rent stabilization coverage.
SLG Graybar Mesne Lease LLC vs. Capital Programs, Inc. – Supreme Court of New York decision, where fended against enforcement of “good-guy” guarantee on commercial property lease.
Spaeda v. Bakirtjy, Appellate Term decision, affirming that landlord cannot deregulate an apartment upon expiration of J-51 benefits, unless the requisite Rider was included in the lease and each renewal thereof.
Areas Of Practice
- Real Estate
- New York, 1992
- Cornell Law School, Ithaca, New York
- City University of New York
- New York State Bar Association, CLE Program, Faculty, “Landlord & Tenant Law Update”.
- Board of Judges of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Judicial Conference, Faculty, “Defending the Commercial Tenant in Summary Proceedings”.
- Association of Housing Court Judges, Faculty, “Landlord & Tenant Law”.
- The Brooklyn Bar Association, Faculty, “The ABCs of Landlord & Tenant Law”.
- Generation Citizen NYC, Judge, Civics Day.
Past Employment Positions
- Bedford Stuyvesant Legal Services, Housing Unit staff, 1991