January 21, 2020
Attorneys from Weil’s New York office, working with The Legal Aid Society of New York, recently obtained a favorable settlement for five low-income tenants in Brooklyn in connection with a landlord-tenant dispute that also involved claims by New York City for numerous housing code violations. As part of the global settlement, the tenants were offered the choice to either return to the apartment building with a rent stabilized lease after the completion of gut-renovations or receive substantial cash compensation.
For several months in 2015 and early 2016, the tenants’ dilapidated building lacked heat and hot water, and the City finally condemned the building and issued an order to vacate in 2016. The City also brought a housing court action against the landlord citing hundreds of building code violations. The landlord then filed plans with the City to fully renovate the premises and to rent the building (including a new “penthouse unit”) at market rates, far above the tenants’ ability to pay. Not only would the construction further delay the tenants’ return to their homes, but the contemplated renovation and market-rate rent would make it impossible for them to return at all.
To protect their right to return to the building, Legal Aid commenced an action in New York Supreme Court on behalf of the tenants seeking a declaration that the building is subject to New York’s Rent Stabilization Laws and Code, based on its configuration before the proposed renovations. After numerous delays by the landlord, Legal Aid sought Weil’s assistance to prosecute the action. Under the supervision of partner Evert Christensen and counsel Roshelle Nagar, counsel Elisabeth Sperle and Robert Swenson and associate Daniel Soso worked closely with Legal Aid attorneys to develop evidence in discovery that conclusively established that, in fact, the landlord had illegally subdivided a five-unit building (not subject to New York’s Rent Stabilization Laws) into a 13-unit building by, among other things, renting living rooms to separate tenants and even removing kitchen appliances to set up additional makeshift living areas (on top of the hazardous conditions already present). This patchwork of designated “areas” resulting in more than 13 separate dwelling units far exceeded the six-unit threshold for a building to be subject to rent stabilization under New York law. Faced with the prospect of the entire building being declared subject to rent stabilization based on the evidence developed in discovery, the landlord settled with the tenants on favorable terms before trial.