Landlord v. Tenant: April 2022
Landlords Claim Property Manager Breached Fiduciary Duty in How Rents Were Set
Landlords of several residential buildings sued their property management company and individual officers affiliated with the management company. Landlords claimed breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, disgorgement, restitution, unjust enrichment, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. They also sought punitive damages.
Under the parties’ management agreement, the management company received 5.5 percent of the total monthly income collected from the properties plus reimbursements. Landlords claimed that the company and its officers failed to apply individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases to legal regulated rents that landlords were legally entitled to charge after spending significant sums on apartment renovations. They also claimed that the company leased units to tenants at rates far below the average legal regulated rents for each building and for each building’s neighborhood, failed to charge vacancy increases, and gave some tenants preferential rents far below the legal regulated or market rents. Landlords argued that the company improperly offered “sweetheart leases” to its friends, family, and vendors. Overall, landlords claimed that the company failed to maximize the buildings’ annual rent roll and asset value.
The management company and individual officers asked the court to dismiss the case before filing any answer. The court ruled for the company in part. The court dismissed against all parties the claims of breach of contract, disgorgement, restitution, unjust enrichment, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and punitive damages. As to breach of fiduciary duty, the court dismissed any claims against the individual defendants but ruled that landlords could continue this claim against the management company. Landlords didn’t point out specific management contract breaches, so their breach of contract claim was unsupported. And the contract didn’t require the company to negotiate apartment leases in order to maximize rental income and property asset values, apply IAI increases, or maximize the annual rent roll. The contract required the company only to recommend, with landlord approval, things around the building to do to be in compliance with codes and correct any violations.
However, landlords did sufficiently allege that, as managing agent, the company owed landlords a fiduciary duty since they maintained a long-term business relationship that went beyond an arms-length transaction. The company was directed to file an answer to the remaining portion of the court complaint.
- 220 E. 26th St. LLC v. Kaled Mgt. Corp.: Index No. 652105/2020, 2022 NY Slip Op 30195(U)(Sup. Ct. NY; 1/20/22)
Use of Unlicensed Contractor Didn’t Bar Rent Hike for IAIs
Rent-stabilized tenant complained of rent overcharge in February 2019. The DRA found no overcharge and dismissed the complaint.
Tenant appealed and lost. Tenant claimed that the last prior rent before she moved in was $898 per month, she initially paid $2,219 per month, and landlord didn’t prove the claimed individual apartment improvements (IAIs). Tenant also claimed rent fraud.
The DHCR noted that the four-year base date applied to this pre-HSTPA complaint. And the DHCR found tenant didn’t present proof to support her claim that the pre-base date IAIs performed in early 2014 were fraudulent. The absence of a rent-stabilized lease rider attached to tenant’s vacancy lease, by itself, was insufficient proof of fraud. And landlord produced an itemized contractor invoice and proof of payment to support the pre-base date IAI rent increases. Landlord’s contractor also submitted a sworn statement that he was paid in full $43,000 for the IAIs.
Tenant also argued that landlord’s contractor wasn’t licensed, but the DHCR had no jurisdiction to enforce local laws regarding the licensing of home improvement contractors. Prior DHCR decisions ruled that employment of an unlicensed contractor didn’t bar a landlord from receiving IAI rent increases.
- Cukrov/Mackay: DHCR Adm. Rev. Docket No. JU210013RT (1/12/22)