Landlord v. Tenant: July 2013
Discrimination: Landlord Fined $185,000 for Not Accommodating Wheelchair-Bound Tenant
Disabled tenant complained to the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that landlord failed to provide a reasonable accommodation, in violation of the city’s Human Rights Law. Tenant was permanently wheelchair-bound following a car accident. She lived in a first-floor apartment in Astoria. Her husband or someone else had to carry her up and down the five stairs between the first floor and the building lobby whenever she went in and out. Tenant refused landlord’s offer to relocate elsewhere in Queens where their buildings had ramps since she would be removed from her Greek-speaking community and would be unable to obtain Section 8 benefits. CHR proposed that, if the front entryway couldn’t be altered, then landlord could replace tenant’s kitchen window with a door and rampway leading outside. Landlord claimed that both options were structurally infeasible.
Although, after a hearing, the Commission’s ALJ agreed with landlord, CHR’s commissioner didn’t adopt the ALJ’s findings and ruled for tenant. Landlord was ordered to pay $125,000 in civil penalties and to pay tenant $75,000 for mental anguish. Landlord filed an Article 78 appeal, claiming that CHR’s decision was unreasonable.
The court ruled against landlord, for the most part. Landlord was required by law to reasonably accommodate tenant’s disability unless it could show undue hardship. Landlord didn’t claim financial hardship, only structural infeasability and didn’t submit any financial information. CHR reasonably determined that landlord could accommodate tenant by converting the window to a door even though there was some disagreement on how difficult that would be to accomplish. The court found that imposition of the full civil penalty was reasonable given that landlord had willfully and without explanation installed video cameras at the building to monitor tenant’s entry and exit from the apartment. But the court reduced the damages for mental anguish from $75,000 to $60,000.
- Marine Holding v. NYCCHR: NYLJ 1202598611806, Index No. 10951/12 (Sup. Ct. Queens; 3/14/13)
DOB Violations: Apartment Illegally Partitioned for Transient Use
DOB issued violation notices to landlord for doing work without a permit and unlawful occupancy. DOB’s inspector found that two bedrooms had been created by partitions in an apartment without a permit, that the living room didn’t have proper light or ventilation, and that occupants had rented the unit for a three-day stay. Transient use was contrary to DOB records for the building. Landlord claimed that the partition was only temporary and that the apartment wasn’t transiently occupied. The ALJ ruled against landlord and fined it $1,000.
Landlord appealed and lost. ECB found that the installation of a temporary partition creating two bedrooms wasn’t a minor alteration. The partition blocked the windows inside the illegal bedrooms, leaving the living room area with inadequate light and ventilation. The change in configuration also posed a risk to first responders since it didn’t match DOB plans showing the layout. And transient use was unlawful in the Class A apartment. Tenant stated that he rented the apartment to business travelers for short-term stays.
- Highpoint Associates V LLC: ECB App. No. 1300065 (4/25/13)
Procedure—Court: Landlord Misstated Tenant’s Rent-Stabilization Status
Landlord sued to evict tenant for nonpayment of rent. Tenant asked the court to dismiss the case during trial, after landlord presented its petition stating that tenant wasn’t subject to rent stabilization. The court found that this was a deliberate misrepresentation of tenant’s status and a fatal defect. The court dismissed the case.
Landlord appealed, and the case was reopened. Landlord’s misstatement in its 2010 nonpayment petition appeared to be the result of uncertainty then existing over the retroactive application of the decision by New York’s highest court in Roberts v. Tishman Speyer Properties, LP. It wasn’t a deliberate misstatement of tenant’s status, and the error didn’t rise to the level of a jurisdictional defect. Landlord could amend its petition to correctly state tenant’s rent-stabilization status, and there could be no surprise to tenant, who continuously claimed that the apartment was rent stabilized.
- 631 Edgecombe LP v. Fajardo: 39 Misc.3d 143(A), 2013 NY Slip Op 50779(U) (App. T. 1 Dept.; 5/16/13)
Warranty of Habitability: Tenant Gets 70 Percent Rent Abatement After Superstorm Sandy
Landlord sued to evict Far Rockaway tenants in January 2013 and claimed that they owed rent of $1,200 per month for the months of July 2012 through February 2013. Tenants moved out in February 2013. They disputed the arrears for the period between November and February, claiming a breach of the warranty of habitability. They asked for a rent abatement. Landlord agreed to forgo rent for the month of November. The apartment was on the top floor of landlord’s house, and part of the roof blew off during Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29. After that, both bedroom ceilings partially collapsed and the walls and furniture developed a tremendous amount of mold. Tenants moved out temporarily in November and claimed that there was no heat when they returned in December. Child Services relocated the family in mid-January based on concerns over the apartment conditions. Landlord claimed that tenants wouldn’t give access for repairs.
The court ruled for tenants and gave them a 70 percent abatement for the period between November and February. While providing essential services to tenants may have been beyond landlord’s control following the storm, there were questions as to how timely landlord’s repair efforts were.
- Senat v. Nichols: NYLJ No. 1202600225916, Index No. L&T85978/12 (Civ. Ct. Queens; 4/23/13)