A recent article in the New York Times discusses a large-scale study of evictions in the United States. More than 83 million records were studied, and the impact on the our society as a whole was further examined. Our law firm is a rarity in that we represent both landlords as well as tenants in eviction matters (of course, not in the same case!). Most private law firms specialize in representing only landlords. As a result, their clients tend to be owners of large properties, or corporations who own many buildings. They do their work in bulk, often bringing many cases at once, and seeking to resolve them during court appearances en masse with the tenants who appear.
Tenants seeking proper legal representation may have fewer options. They will have to seek out private law firms, such as ours, which represents both landlords and tenants. As the New York Times article discusses, many tenants do not have the means to obtain legal representation in eviction cases. They are faced with the prospect of a Court appearance where the landlord is often represented by experienced counsel who knows all the aspects of the legal system.
As a result of this imbalance, many Courts attempt to assist the tenants during their appearances. Of course, legally, Judges must be neutral in their application of justice. They may advise unrepresented tenants to obtain legal counsel and allow the appearance to be adjourned in order for the tenant to retain an attorney. They may also ask the tenants whether they understand the legal proceedings, and review with the parties the details of any settlement agreement entered into between themselves and counsel for the landlord. Our experience has been that the Judges, especially those in Westchester County, have on the whole been fair and impartial to both sides in these cases.
Another important aspect to consider is that not all landlords are large companies who own hundreds, if not thousands, of rental units. Many of our landlord clients may own a single house, which they are renting. They may also be living at the premises of a two family house, and renting half of the house. It is important to consider the rights of such a landlord as well. They do not have a large amount of rental income, and may be using the rent to keep current on their mortgage and to pay expenses of the property, such as upkeep and real estate taxes. If their tenant defaults on their rent, they are not in a position to “let it go” and allow the tenant to remain for long without paying. They require an expeditious legal process so that their property can be fairly protected.
As a result of representing both landlords and tenants, our firm is able to see both sides of the issues in these matters. While tenants are entitled to legal protections, especially when landlords fail to keep the property in good condition, landlords are also entitled to their expected income stream so that they can maintain their property, and we work to insure that all parties’ rights are respected.