Whether your landlord is suing you for eviction, or you are suing your landlord for repairs, being in court takes its toll. Resources get depleted. Tenants have to take off from work, pay an attorney to represent them, and live with the stress of an unknown outcome.
If your case is resolved by Stipulation of Settlement, as most cases are in Housing Court, it means you compromised in some way to have the case over. You might feel some “settler’s remorse” after settlement, wondering whether you would do better at trial. On balance, however, you might feel the benefits outweigh any doubts. By settling, you know the outcome, what the parties must do going forward, and that you will not have to return to court, miss more days of work and pay additional legal fees.
But what happens when a party does not comply with its obligations under the Stipulation? A party can bring a motion for contempt of the Court Ordered Stipulation.
The tenants in Roxborough Apt. Corp. v Koessel, represented by HMGJ, successfully brought their landlord back to court for not living up to its promise in the Stipulation to give the tenants a proper lease and to do repairs.
After several days of hearing testimony, in November 2014, the Court held the landlord in civil and criminal contempt, awarded the tenant attorney’s fees, and fined the landlord $2000 over and above the attorney’s fees for civil and criminal contempt.
The Court found that the landlord failed to issue a proper lease as promised in the Stipulation and did not accept the landlord’s argument that the tenants should have unilaterally revised the lease. The Court also found that the landlord failed to explain his failure to make repairs. Specifically, the Court found that the landlord was disdainful of the tenant’s attempts to have the work done; refused to take a list of the repairs, and did not walk through the entire apartment, pointedly ignoring the bedrooms. The Court also made a negative inference that in his defense the landlord did not call workers or those individuals responsible for scheduling the work. The tenants, by contrast, had another tenant in the building testify who a similar experience with this landlord after the landlord had entered into a Stipulation.
The initial Stipulation did not contain an agreement to pay legal fees. That normally means no side gets legal fees. However, the tenants did get legal fees for the landlord’s contemptuous conduct post Stipulation, from the time of the contemptuous conduct (i.e. failure to issue a lease and make repairs) forward.