Articles Posted in landlord tenant law

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Earlier this month, a New York City landlord with over 4,500 rental units was named in a New York discrimination lawsuit alleging that the landlord illegally discriminated against prospective tenants. According to a local news report, the landlord was engaging in “extensive and systematic” discrimination based on the race and family size of applicants.

NYC SkylineThe report discusses the findings of an investigation conducted by a New York non-profit organization that focuses on fair housing initiatives. The organization used volunteers to pretend that they were interested in renting an apartment from the landlord. Both white and black applicants were used. The white applicants reported ample vacancy and median rents around $1,450. However, the black applicants were treated differently, often being told that there was no vacancy in the building, and when a room was made available to rent, it was at the higher median price of around $1,575.

The landlord was also accused of turning down applicants who were using public assistance and also requiring families with young children to undergo extensive lead-testing. The article notes that the landlord agency was named in a lawsuit making similar claims 25 years ago, which settled out of court through a consent decree.

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City and state officials have founded a task force with the sole purpose of protecting tenants from landlords who bully and harass them in an effort to pressure them into giving up their rent-stablized apartment to higher-paying tenants.
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The Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force will be responsible from investigating complaints from tenants that landlords are using certain techniques to force tenants out. The task force will be given the authority to take action on behalf of the tenant and possibly to pursue criminal charges.

Tenant harassment may include (but is not limited to):

  • Intentional denial of services or repairs
  • Yelling, issuing threats or name-calling
  • Physical intimidation or violence
  • Taking tenants to court again and again without good reason
  • Entering an apartment in a non-emergency without notifying tenant in advance
  • Conducting disruptive and potentially dangerous repairs that aren’t necessary

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Landlords and tenants have been warring with one another over “subletting” units to Airbnb customers. rentalunits.jpg

Tenants who do so are reportedly violating their lease agreements and city laws, while landlords are accused of doing the same with neighboring units, causing disturbances to long-term tenants.

Meanwhile, the city too has been filing lawsuits, seeking preliminary injunctions against home homeowners operating “illegal hotels” on the apartment-sharing website. That resulted in litigation filed against Airbnb by several unit owners alleging breach of contract for releasing purportedly private information to the city.
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Tenant “blacklisting” is something many New York City renters may never have heard of – but which could potentially mar their chances of landing a good location years after a landlord dispute.elder.jpg

The process has been facilitated in recent years by so-called “tenant screening” companies. There are nearly 700 of them across the country. Their “blacklist” is actually a collection of data of lawsuits filed by or against landlords in housing court. It doesn’t matter the reason or the outcome of the resolution. A lot of times, a landlord-tenant lawsuit has more to do with whether the landlord is bad, rather than whether the tenant is good.

An example recently detailed in an NPR story involved a father who lived in the Bronx in 2009 with his wife and young son. However, when he discovered rats coming up from the basement into their first-floor unit, he asked managers of the building to take care of the problem. Despite repeated entreaties, nothing was done. Tenant decided to withhold his rent, which can be a powerful tactic to force uncooperative landlords to make necessary and legally-mandated repairs. But what happened in that case, as in so many others, is the landlord turned around and sued the tenant for eviction for nonpayment of rent. Tenant and landlord later settled the case out-of-court, but the lawsuit remained on record.
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In a recent commercial landlord-tenant dispute in New York City, the owner of a new business slated to open where a Chinese restaurant once operated is seeking $22 million from the landlord due to a termite infestation, as well as other structure problems that have so far required extensive repairs.
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The BBQ restaurant plaintiff alleges in the New York State Supreme Court filing that the landlord first lied about the condition of the First Avenue structure, and then attempted to initiate an eviction of the tenant when repairs were demanded.

The series of structural issues with the building has delayed the opening of the business for several months, leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. That’s in addition to the $600,000 monthly rent it pays, as well as the $3.1 million it has so far invested in repairs on structural deficiencies that were “almost too many to count,” the plaintiff said.
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Tenants in Battery Park City’s Gateway Plaza are in a heated dispute with their landlord over reportedly freezing conditions inside their units.
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News reports indicate the owner of the property has made numerous promises to repair faulty windows and heating units. However, those promises, tenants say, have gone largely unfulfilled while they have suffered through bouts of extreme cold, with snow and ice piling up inside unsealed windows.

There was talk at a recent Community Board 1 meeting of initiating a rent strike after a year of empty pledges to conduct the various repairs. Of approximately 3,500 units, only about 300 have received the repairs that were vowed. Now, the tenant association is discussing the possibility of filing a landlord-tenant lawsuit on the grounds that the landlord has violated the New York City warranty of habitability guidelines guaranteed to renters under the Rent Guidelines Board.
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Disability discrimination claims are among some of the most common complaints made by tenants to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), with the agency reporting such claims comprised 55 percent of the total housing complaints filed last year.
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New York landlord dispute attorneys recognize that the federal laws are quite clear that discrimination is unacceptable. Proving it, however, can sometimes be a different matter.

Landlords have a responsibility under federal law to accommodate legitimate needs stemming from your disability, which could be either physical or mental. The Fair Housing Act requires that all landlords with five or more units comply with these rules, while the Americans With Disabilities Act applies primarily to public housing authorities.
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Landlords have a vested interest in ridding their property of tenants who create a nuisance, as they could potentially be held legally liable if the nuisance is not abated.
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However, a tricky dilemma has arisen in a number of recent landlord-tenant disputes that pits landlord’s nuisance property claims against a victim’s right to protection.

As The New York Times reports, a number of local governments have “nuisance property” ordinances that are intended to shield neighborhoods from households that are routinely disruptive.
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When Hurricane Sandy terrifyingly ripped through New York and surrounding states last fall, the amount of damage in the aftermath was seemingly insurmountable.

For some New York City residents, the nightmare hasn’t ended.

One loft property in TriBeCa has become the center of an ongoing landlord-tenant dispute.
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The city’s Buildings Department has red-stickered the structure at 31 Desbrosses Street, condemning it as unsafe to be inhabited in the wake of the storm. It’s one of eight structures in the city that still retain this designation.

The tenants have been forced to relocate, for the time-being, as flooding has damaged the structure’s already aging electrical wiring.

Now, the landlord says there is too much damage to repair. He says it will cost more to fix it than the structure is worth. However, the tenants, who have secured rent-stabilized housing within the building, say that isn’t so. They have filed a civil lawsuit to force him to make the necessary repairs so they can move back in.

Many of those tenants have been in the structure since the 1970s. Back then, loft residences had a very different meaning than they do today. In modern real estate, we think of “lofts” as an open, airy space that is probably priced at a premium. But 45 years ago, it meant you could get an empty commercial space, where individual units didn’t come equipped with amenities like bathrooms or kitchens. The “loft” residents at the building on Debrosses Street paid for those things to be put in.

(At one time, the building was home to the Pertussin cough medicine factory.) But by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the area surrounding that neighborhood was practically dead. Residents got in for cheap. But there was a reason. They have worked for decades to make it their own.

Today, rent costs residents there about $1,000 per floor. Across the street, rents are as high as $4,000 monthly for a 1-bedroom unit.

The tenants recognize that the storm wasn’t the only thing contributing to the disrepair of the structure. The building has some significant cracks. The vault beneath the sidewalk has also deteriorated.

Not all of it would have to be fixed to be once again deemed habitable. However, the question is whether the landlord has the right to decline to fix the structure, leaving the tenants out of the rent-stabilized deal they had enjoyed.

Part of the dispute centers on the building’s actual value. A private appraiser has valued the structure at $3 million. The city in 2009 put it closer to $325,000.

Rent stabilization is treasured by tenants, but property owners tend to despise it. The arrangement means heavy restrictions on how the building can be used and what kind of value landlords can receive for it. Opponents say it makes rents pricier for those who have to pay market rate.

Tenants say they recognize they have a great deal, but say they invested in the place during the early years. They deserve to now reap the benefits.
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In New York City, sub-letting long-term rentals as a daily or weekly vacation rental allows many tenants to make ends meet in a place where the cost of living is through the roof.

Many do so through websites such as Airbnb, and can earn up to thousands of dollars a month.
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What they’re doing is illegal under both city occupancy code and state law, per an administrative judge ruling handed down in May. Still, it’s a thriving black-market industry, with about 30,000 New Yorkers signed up as hosts on Airbnb’s website.

Now, this New York City landlord-tenant law issue has some landlords taking decisive action against a practice they say is steeply carving into their profits.

In Nolita recently, sibling building owners paid $20,000 to hire a private investigator to pose as a tourist, in order to catch a tenant illegally renting out her apartment online to strangers. The New York Post reports that the tenant had been paying some $1,400 monthly for her rent-stabilized, one-bedroom apartment. However, she was allegedly earning some $4,500 monthly by subleasing the unit. She reportedly did this using two online marketing sites, including Airbnb.

The tenant used her middle name on the websites, on which she called the apartment a “Nolita Nest.” It appears the woman was living with her husband in New Jersey while she sublet the apartment. Her lawyer later explained that her brother was living at the residence for the summer. However, when the landlords questioned the tenant, he said he was a university student interning in the city for the summer. He was not a relative or even a friend of the tenant’s. He admitted he had arranged the rental on Airbnb.

Crain’s New York Business estimated that in New York alone, such illegal sublet rental arrangements will earn tenants roughly $1 billion this year. To put it into perspective, it outpaces the city’s healthy cruise-ship industry by five-fold.

Inevitably, this has a negative impact on hotels in Manhattan and throughout the city.

The Nolita landlords say their tenant has earned about $500,000 doing this over the course of the last four years.

In this situation, landlords sometimes must go through the process of evicting both the leased tenant and the subleased tenant, even if they had no formal or direct agreement with the latter.

The law was changed in 2011 to bar New Yorkers from renting out an entire apartment for a period of less than 29 days. The original bill was intended to stop landlords from illegally converting residential buildings into hotels.

However, it’s not exactly being used that way, and Airbnb is now lobbying for some leeway for those who occasionally rent a few times a year to help make ends meet. If officials were to grant Airbnb’s request, it’s unclear what kind of regulatory concessions – if any – city and state leaders could make so that the terms would be agreeable to landlords.

Part of the problem is that landlords still maintain liability for what happens on the property, regardless of who is occupying the unit. So when someone sublets, they have no control over who is in that unit. Many times, when the deals are conducted over the internet, even the tenant doesn’t know the person. The two may never even meet in person.

Still, as this case shows, many New Yorkers are continuing to simply take their chances and hope they aren’t caught. The law is only enforced when a complaint is filed.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, the city has received some 3,100 complaints and issued some 6,200 violations since 2006. Many times, one unit or tenant is cited for multiple violations.
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