Tenants Facing Escalating Eviction Pressures

Posted February 3, 2012 in Consumer Law by Richard Dahl

Courtney Love on stage.

Courtney Love

To the surprise of many celebrity hounds, rock star Courtney Love recently emerged victorious in a battle with her New York City landlord who was trying to evict her.

New York City Housing Court Judge Jean T. Schneider issued a decision  on Jan. 17 to dismiss a petition filed with the court last November by Love’s landlord, Donna Lyon, seeking rent money and an eviction. According to the initial lease agreement, Love was required to pay her first six months’ rent on her $27,000-per-month apartment up front. Love paid the full $162,000.

However, friction between landlord and tenant got hot when, Lyon says, she decided to sell the house and sent a photographer over to take pictures for a brochure. She claimed that when she saw the photos, she’d seen that Love had painted and wallpapered part of the property—apparently due to a fire that broke out in a bedroom last June—without permission.

Prior to the end of the first six-month term, Lyon changed the terms of the lease to require Love to pay the rent on a monthly basis. Love did pay the rent for the first two months, September and October, under the new arrangement and Lyon accepted the money. But then the landlord tried to return to the initial terms of the lease and claim that Love still owed her rent. Judge Schneider ruled, however, that because Lyon accepted the money for September and October, it meant that the monthly-payment arrangement was binding and Lyon’s petition was dismissed.

Love’s reputation for unruly behavior and drug abuse make this most recent scuffle a “man bites dog” story that garnered many headlines. But according to New York City tenants lawyer Jeff McAdams, it also stands as a typical tale of the times.

“Things are getting worse for tenants,” he says. “Eviction notices are higher than ever.”

Many New York City properties are classified as “rent stabilized” or “rent controlled” on the basis of laws passed prior to 1974, but McAdams says that “the pressure to evict rent-stabilized and rent-controlled tenants is constantly compounding. Landlords still desire people who are able to pay high rents.”

“New York City is becoming a city where only the rich can afford to live,” he McAdams says. “Fewer and fewer rent-regulated apartments remain.”

A recent report by Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate bears this observation out. On Jan. 12, the real-estate brokerage said that in the fourth quarter of last year, Manhattan apartment rents jumped by a whopping 9.5 percent from the previous year, to $3,121 per month.

“Landlords use any excuse in the book to evict rent-regulated tenants and raise rents to levels where rent regulations don’t apply,” McAdams says.

For instance, he says, landlords can evict tenants by claiming that they want to use the apartment for themselves or their family—“and then rent the apartment at a higher rent to a new tenant who doesn’t have protections.”

Also, he says, because rent protections are only for primary residences, if landlords determine that a tenant lives part-time at another address they might claim that the protection is not warranted. And if they find that if tenants have someone living with them, they are subletting without permission and are subject to eviction.

McAdams’ tracks developments in the ongoing landlord-tenant battle in the Big Apple on his NYC Tenant Lawyer Blog, and has also written a guide called “How to Protect Yourself Against a Ruthless, Greedy Landlord,” which provides 30 strategies that tenants may employ to guard against them.

For instance, McAdams says, tenants facing eviction should not rely on Housing Court personnel to help them because courts are overburdened.

Other pointers:

  • The first thing to do if you’re evicted is call the police.
  • The second thing to do is go to housing court—preferably with a lawyer.
  • Keep a copy of your lease and related documents off premises so that you can retain them if you are locked out.
  • Have a renter’s insurance policy.
  • Buy yourself time—if you’re evicted, there are several ways to delay the proceedings for several months.

While these pointers may be particularly useful in a high-tent city like New York, they could be helpful to tenants anywhere who are dealing with problematic landlords.

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