Tenants' Rights Archives

Landlord/Tenant Snapshot: No Access Claims

Landlords commonly request access from tenants for repairs both parties agree must be done. Work usually is completed with cooperation and communication on both sides. But sometimes, claims of "no access" are created by landlords and boards to pressure a tenant or shareholder to do something unrelated to a bona fide repair. For example, tenants have been asked to let an "inspector" in who turns out to be an appraiser for a bank, an adjustor for an insurance claim, or even a prospective buyer. Sometimes a landlord needs access to a tenant's apartment for work in other areas of the building but won't tell the tenant the real reason (knowing the tenant might not be obligated to comply), so he fabricates a reason. Most conflicts arise when landlords send workers without prior notice, workers do not show up, do a bad job, or are unlicensed. Tenants may rightly view such requests as "harassment" and disregard them entirely. Disregarding a request for access can be dangerous, however, no matter how suspect the request might be.

Tenant Entitled to Recover Attorney's Fees in Succession Case

In the case of 354 East 66th Street v. Curry, the son of the deceased rent stabilized tenant proved to the Housing Court that he had the right to succeed to his mother's tenancy. The Housing Court awarded Mr. Curry his attorneys' fees, and the landlord appealed. On appeal, the Appellate Term, First Department, ruled that Mr. Curry was entitled to his attorneys' fees based upon the terms of his mother's original lease dating from 1972. That lease contained a clause stating that the landlord could recover attorneys' fees in the event of a default by the tenant. Under the law (Real Property Law 234), where a lease allows a landlord to recover attorneys' fees, the tenant has an equal right to recover attorneys' fees if the tenant is the prevailing party in a court dispute. The lease also stated that its terms were binding upon successors-in-interest. Therefore, the Appellate Term stated, Mr. Curry was entitled to recover his attorneys' fees. This case is especially significant because there had been some previous court decisions interpreting provisions of old leases, such as the one in this case, in a manner unfavorable to tenants. This case appears to have settled the law, such that old lease provisions like the one in this case will allow for tenants, and their successors, to recover attorneys' fees when they prevail in court.

While Gideon v. Wainwright Turns 50, Most Tenants are still Unrepresented in Housing Court

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's decision Gideon v Wainwright which required states to provide attorneys for indigent people charged with crimes. The case was decided under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Clarence Gideon had been charged with stealing cigarettes, beer and wine from a poolroom in Panama City, Florida. One witness identified him. When his trial began Mr. Gideon told the judge that he was not prepared for trial because he did not have an attorney. The judge explained to him that under the laws of the State of Florida the court could only appoint counsel in capital cases. Mr. Gideon was tried and convicted. His case ended up before the US Supreme Court where he won a great victory for unrepresented criminal defendants.

"New York City's Housing Court at 40: Controversies, Challenges, and Prospects for the Future" Conference at the City Bar

A photograph of the 1968 riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago remained displayed on two large screens in the main hall of the Bar Association of the City New York throughout the day at the conference titled "New York City's Housing Court at 40: Controversies, Challenges, and Prospects for the Future" on March 11, 2013. The photo, which had been used by New York Law School Professor Richard Chuse to illustrate the effect of the 1960s social movements on housing law, seemed an appropriate image to sum up the deep conflict between landlords and tenants which was the subtext of the conference.

How Much Should Tenants Push for Legal Fees?

Designed to "level the playing field," Real Property Law section 234 states that whenever a lease provides that a landlord may recover attorneys' fees and or expenses due to a tenant's failure to perform any agreement contained in a lease, there is implied a covenant by the landlord to pay to the tenant the reasonable attorney's fees and/or expenses incurred by the tenant as the result of the failure of the landlord to perform any agreement under the lease or in the successful defense of any action or summary proceeding commence by the landlord.

Two Recent Decisions: Courts Find Tenants To Be Rent Stabilized

Landlords will often rent apartments to tenants claiming that they are not rent stabilized when in fact they are. In two recent cases, the Housing Court found for the tenants. Ron Languedoc represented the tenant in Raywood. Sam Himmelstein and Ron Languedoc represented the tenant in Shomron.

Small Leak Big Case

A small leak developed in the closet ceiling of apartment 15L, a coop apartment. The Coop's engineer's opinion was that it was caused by a leak from the bathroom in apartment 16L. The 16L apartment owner retained our firm and an engineer whose opinion was that the leak was not emanating from our client's bathroom but rather from pipes higher up in the building.

Rights of Co-op Shareholders Whose Apartments Were Damaged By Hurricane Sandy

Many coop tenants whose apartments were damaged by Hurricane Sandy are wondering if they have any rights to financial compensation, in the form of an abatement of maintenance, resulting from their apartments being rendered partially or totally uninhabitable. This post does not address issues regarding property damage or relocation costs if the apartment is completely unlivable. The amount of a particular abatement will depend upon the extent of the damage to the apartment and how long the conditions exist. The cooperator must notify the coop board or agent of the damage, preferably in writing, and demand immediate repairs and provide access if requested. Conditions such as mold should be remediated according to Department of Health guidelines by a qualified expert.

Rights of Rent Regulated Tenants Whose Apartments Have Been Damaged by Hurricane Sandy

If my apartment was damaged do I have to pay the full rent? NO. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may be entitled to a rent "abatement" or reduction of the rent that you were required to pay. Under New York law the landlord must provide you with a habitable apartment. It does not matter if the damage to your apartment was not the fault of the landlord. This is called the "Warranty of Habitability." In order to get a reduction in your rent, unless the landlord is willing to reduce your rent voluntarily, you have two options, one requiring going to housing court. To get a rent abatement through housing court you will have to withhold all or part of your rent. The landlord will then bring a proceeding in housing court to evict you for not paying your rent. When your serve your "Answer" to the court proceeding, you will list as a defense that there are repairs that have to be done. You will also list as a "counterclaim" that you are entitled to an abatement of your rent. You will have to prove to the court that there is damage to your apartment and that the landlord had notice of the damage. It is always better to have an attorney if you go to housing court. But even without an attorney you could get an abatement of your rent.

Misconceptions about the Law

There are two popular misconceptions that many non-lawyers (and maybe even some lawyers) have about the law. One is that there is a "right" and "wrong" answer to every legal question. Another is that the legal system is a place to find justice. Regarding the first misconception, clients sometimes say to me "doesn't the judge have to find in our favor because that is the law?" But the law is not a science; it is more of an art. Law is a matter of interpretation and different judges can interpret things different ways. As the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan famously said, the law is whatever five justices on the Supreme Court say it is!


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