Articles Posted in Landlord and Tenant

squatttt-300x270Recently in the news are stories about squatters taking over properties in New York.  A recent blog post addressed the question of who is legally defined as a squatter, and how such a person could be evicted.  The reason for this prior analysis is that, under then-current New York law, anyone occupying a property for at least thirty days was legally considered a “tenant” and had to be evicted through the Court system, most often in the local landlord-tenant Court.

Allowing such persons the same protections under the law as actual tenants (generally meaning those who had a lease and were paying rent to the owner) caused property owners serious problems.  Under the prior law, a person could enter the premises without the consent of the owner, remain there for at least thirty days, and be considered a tenant for the purposes of eviction law.  The owner would then have to hire experienced counsel to first issue a termination notice to the “tenant” who entered the property without his consent.  After the expiration of the termination notice, if the occupant failed to vacate, an action in landlord-tenant Court would have to be commenced.  Such an action, under the law, requires approximately two weeks prior notice to the “tenant.”  Once in Court, a tenant is allowed an adjournment to obtain counsel if requested.  Further adjournments, depending on the Court’s caseload, would be likely.  As a result, the “tenant,” who entered without the owner’s consent, and was not paying rent to the owner, could stay for quite some time before the Court finally allowed an eviction to occur.  The expenses of such legal proceedings, as well as the actual eviction conducted by the Marshal, would have to be paid by the owner, with little chance of recovering such sums from the squatter.

In light of these unjust outcomes, New York has now passed a new law that excludes squatters from the protections of the landlord-tenant laws.  The law now defines a squatter as someone staying at a property without permission from the owner or a representative for the owner.  It states that a squatter is not to be considered a tenant, and is not entitled to the legal protections of a tenant.   As a result, if someone is illegally occupying property, the owner can contact the police to remove the squatter, rather than having to evict him through the Court system.

suqs-225x300Recently in the news is a story about a couple who purchased a house in Queens after foreclosure.  After they completed their purchase, they discovered a “squatter” living in the house.  This story raises the question of who is legally defined as a squatter, and how can such a person be evicted?

First, let it be said that this is by no means an unusual course of events in New York.  New York State laws, as well as many Judges in the landlord-tenant Courts, are notoriously “pro-tenant,” making it difficult to evict anyone, even squatters.  Changes in New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, which governs eviction procedure, have made it even more difficult to complete an eviction process.  Even in situations in which the tenant has already been evicted, the tenant in many cases may seek a temporary injunction to allow him to move back into the premises, even if the eviction was done completely and lawfully.

The “squatter” in the Queens case turned out to be a handyman who claimed that the former owner of the premises gave him permission to reside at the premises.  This moves him out of the category of squatter, as a squatter under the law is an individual who was never given consent, by any owner or former owner, to reside at the premises.  Under the law, the handyman would be considered an alleged “licensee.”   A licensee is someone who was allowed to live at the property by the owner without a lease or payment of rent, such as a girlfriend or boyfriend of the owner, or in this case, a handyman who claims to have permission from the former owner.

delay-300x228A recent case was filed in Supreme Court, Queens County by a group of corporations under the umbrella of the LeFrak Organization – one of the largest landlords in Queens.  The lawsuit was brought as an Article 78 proceeding.  An Article 78 proceeding is a lawsuit brought against a New York State official, or New York administrative agency, in which the plaintiff seeks to overturn a decision made by the official or agency on the grounds that it violated New York law.

The plaintiffs in this action seek reform of the handling of housing court cases in Queens County, in which long delays have been the rule, rather than the exception.  New York housing courts have jurisdiction over eviction cases, which can be brought as summary proceedings.  As the name “summary proceedings” suggests, these cases are meant to be brought in an expedited matter, and are supposed to be heard and resolved more quickly than actions brought in New York Supreme Court.

Under current New York law, housing court cases are required to be scheduled by the Court for an appearance in Court between three and eight days after a tenant responds to an eviction petition.  If the tenant fails to respond, or fails to appear on the return date, the landlord-tenant court is supposed to issue a warrant of eviction, as well as a judgment in favor of the landlord.

We have represented both landlords and tenants with respect to commercial leases.  This post will examine the particulars to be considered when a doctor or medical practice is the tenant.

When evaluating a potential location, the proposed tenant should first determine whether the space is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  For instance, if the building has steps to its front entrance, is a ramp also installed to allow for wheelchair access?  Is there an elevator and if so, is it also suitable to be used by patients with wheelchairs.  Do the restroom facilities comply with ADA?

In the event that the space is not ADA compliant or requires adjustments to be suited for the installation of medical equipment, the parties may decide that the space will be built out before the tenant occupies.  The parties will decide which one of them will be responsible for the build out costs and whether the tenant will be afforded a rent concession until such time as the space is completely constructed and ready for use, provided that the tenant exercises diligence in completing the construction, in accordance with building permits to be obtained and without the attachment of mechanics liens to the property.

landlordkillstenants-300x174A recent article in the New York Post reports on the tragic story of a New York City landlord who claimed he was “under pressure” and had “a lot of issues” with his tenants, namely, that they were late paying rent.  Unfortunately, the landlord responded to the situation by murdering his tenants, for which he has now been arrested and is in police custody.

Obviously, this is the wrong way for a landlord to handle tenants who have not paid their rent.  What should the landlord have done instead?  This blog post will discuss the proper manner in which non-paying tenants should be dealt.

Almost all tenants are required to pay rent when leasing property, such as an apartment or a house.  To simplify, we will discuss residential, rather than commercial tenants, in this post.

We have observed that the current inventory of houses available to purchase in the area serviced by our attorneys is low.  In addition, many houses are rented.  When the tenant and landlord have a good relationship, it is not unusual for the parties to agree that the tenant will buy the house from the owner.  This post will address the legal issues involved in such a transaction whereby the tenant becomes the buyer and the landlord becomes the seller.

The first action that both parties should take is to engage the services of an experienced real estate attorney.  Such a transaction would be considered “for sale by owner” , since neither party would be using the services of a real estate agent.  As such, the attorneys will need to develop the particulars of the deal terms that will be included in the contract, such as the purchase price, downpayment amount, whether there are conditions such as a mortgage contingency, and deadlines for obtaining the mortgage commitment and closing.  One concern is that the property may not appraise to at least the amount in the contract since it was not offered on the open market through a real estate agent who is familiar with appropriate pricing for the property.  If the appraised value is lower than the purchase price, the buyer will not be able to obtain the mortgage in the anticipated amount needed to close.

A tenant occupying the property is already familiar with property condition and may not find it necessary to make repair requests.  However, it may behoove the buyer to conduct due diligence and order a professional engineer’s inspection that will evaluate systems servicing the house such as the furnace, hot water heater and roof.  These are elements that a tenant may not consider when renting a house, but a potential owner should evaluate before signing a contract.  A proposed owner may also be concerned as to whether proper permits exist for improvements made to the house, while a tenant would not have considered such issue before moving in.

marshal-300x214As the moratorium on eviction cases in New York State due to the COVID-19 pandemic fades into memory, our firm has resumed regular operations regarding landlord-tenant law.  In general, this means eviction cases when a tenant may have stayed past the expiration of his lease (known as holdover actions), and those when a tenant is in violation of his lease, usually due to failure to pay rent (non-payment actions).

The question this blog post will address is what happens at the end of an eviction action that allows a tenant to be removed from the premises.  In order to evict any tenant, the Court must issue a Judgment and a Warrant of Eviction.  This can occur in several ways.  The first is if the tenant fails to appear in Court, and the Court then issues a default judgment against the tenant.  Conversely, if the tenant does appear, the case may eventually go to trial before the Court.  If the landlord prevails at trial, again, the Court will allow entry of a Judgment against the tenant.

Finally, it is possible that the parties will agree to a settlement of the action.  Usually, that is through the execution of a Stipulation of Settlement.  In general, a Stipulation is a compromise of the case.  The tenant may agree to leave the premises at a future date certain.  For example, if the case is brought in early January, the attorneys for parties may agree that the tenant may vacate the property on or before March 31st.  There may be other aspects of the case that are addressed in a Stipulation of Settlement, such as any rent arrears due from the tenant.  The agreement may allow the tenant to pay such arrears over time, and, assuming he complies with the payment terms, the landlord may withdraw his case when full payments are made pursuant to the Stipulation.

renter-300x169Recently in the news are proposals by the Biden administration regarding policies to allegedly protect rental tenants.  According to the stories, multiple federal agencies are strongly considering taking actions that are designed to strengthen tenant protections and encourage rental affordability.  Of course, experience has shown that well-intentioned government actions often do not have the intended results, and often worsen situations that they are designed to ameliorate.

Due to the extreme reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is currently a shortage of residential housing, especially in large cities.  This is likely a result of the various eviction moratoriums during the pandemic, which resulted in tenants remaining in housing without paying rent.  The effects of these moratoriums, even if they are no longer in effect, continues to the present day.  Local landlord-tenant courts are still trying clear the backlog of eviction cases that occurred during the moratorium, especially in large cities such as New York.  As a result, new renters are finding that, due to a shortage of supply, rental units have increased greatly in price, as the law of supply and demand has superseded governmental regulation.

The government is proposing executive action to direct the Federal Trade Commission to issue new regulations defining “excessive” rent increases, as well as other protections for renters, such as forcing landlords to wait at least thirty days before commencing eviction proceedings for non-payment of rent.

applebeesAs the COVID-19 pandemic fades, some legal cases that were temporarily postponed by the Courts, such as commercial evictions , are resuming and going forward in litigation.  A recent case in the news involved the popular family restaurant Applebee’s, and its location in the heart of New York City, timessquare  in Times Square.

The case involved the non-payment of rent totaling over seven million dollars by Applebee’s during the pandemic.  The company argued that it had cash flow problems worsened by the pandemic, had to completely close its Times Square location in March, 2020, and could not reopen until June, 2021.

The attorneys for the landlord argued that there were no clauses in the commercial lease allowing Applebee’s to avoid making payments owed during the pandemic.  The Court ruled that Applebee’s had to pay the full amount of the back rent, and also ordered that it be evicted from the Times Square location.

throuple-193x300Our firm often fields inquiries from clients regarding successor rights in New York residential rental apartments.  First, experienced counsel should determine whether the premises are subject to rent regulation.  Rent regulation in New York State applies to many, but not all, residential units.  It is more prevalent in New York City than in its surrounding suburbs.  However, it does also cover some rental units in Westchester and Nassau Counties.

Assuming that rent regulation does apply to the premises, then the current occupants may be allowed successor rights once the original party on the lease either passes away or vacates the premises.   For example, let’s assume Grandma rents an apartment subject to rent regulation, and only her name is on the original lease.  As Grandma ages, some of her grandchildren move in to take care of her, and eventually become permanent occupants of the premises.  Even though they are not listed as tenants on the original lease, these individuals, as family members occupying the premises, may be entitled to a successor lease once Grandma passes away or moves out of state.

A recent New York City Court case raises new possibilities regarding the legal definition of “family members” as they apply to more modern, non-traditional relationships.  The case of West 49th Street, LLC v. O’Neill involved a New York City apartment which was occupied by three unmarried individuals, only one of whom was on the rent-stabilized lease.  After the death of the named tenant, one of the other individuals claimed that he was a non-traditional family member, despite the fact that the third individual, and not him, was the “life partner” of the deceased for over twenty-five years.

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