Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tenant eviction questions
Disclaimer: The following is my opinion. IANAL - I am not a lawyer. Therefore I do not give legal advice. My opinion probably would, legally, be free and questionable advice, hearsay, rumors, or outright misleading information, lies, heresy, calumny, betrayal of trust, sabotage, espionage, terrorist information, brainwashing, illusions, dreams, utopia, and utter nonsense. So - you should ignore it and move along. Just run away fast.

But I believe I know something useful to someone, and I am still free to say whatever I have to say in this land of madmen. So far. I think. I didn't read the Patriot Act yet. So...

Could my landlord evict me?

Landlords commonly bring eviction cases against tenants, frequently without any justified reason. It's just business, not personal - they want you out to raise the rent for the next tenant. The landlord or you could win or lose the case. Only the court will decide.

How long could I still stay in the apartment?
Worst case scenario: your case is weak, you've done something illegal. If to defend your case you do nothing at all, never show up in court? Probably not very long. If you simply show up in court and try to delay it, saying you are looking for a lawyer, most likely several months. If you get a lawyer, probably several months at least, maybe around six months or a year. Or forever if you win, have a rent-regulated apt, and a lease, and the law doesn't change. Or until the landlord can bring another case, then the court will decide again...

But I would win in court, wouldn't I?

If the landlord has no valid argument and no evidence for one, you will probably win in court - if you defend yourself reasonably. But if you or a lawyer, don't appear to defend your case, nobody appears, you automatically lose.

How would I defend my apartment?
You could defend the case representing yourself. This would be difficult, time consuming and more risky, but possible. Ideally you would have a good lawyer, specialized, and dedicated, to NYC tenant law. Tenant associations call them "tenants-only lawyers". If you have a lawyer, you don't even have to go to most court sessions, although you can of course. Sometimes you should, sometimes probably not.

Where can I get some advice? Know more about this?
The best places would be a tenant's association, tenants legal clinic, tenant websites, and the Citywide Task Force on Housing. You can also try to get help at community and government associations, churches, a Community Board, a City Councilman's office, Congressman's office.

Where can I get a free lawyer? Does the court give me a lawyer?
Some poor people, below certain incomes, may qualify for a free lawyer from places such as Met Council, SRO Law Project, and others. You may have that option. If not, you will have to pay a private lawyer, or represent yourself alone, known as "pro se". NYC housing court has a few volunteer lawyers that will teach you a few things on how to represent yourself. They will not give you legal advice, and will not represent you in the court. The court does not give you a lawyer, or recommend lawyers. A tenants association will recommend you lawyers, and tell you your chances of representing yourself.

How much would a lawyer cost? To defend me, in my case?
It seems that it is around $1000-$5000, usually around $2000. But I don't know your case. And each lawyer has their own prices. And your case might be simple, short, and cheap, or complex, long, and expensive.

Will I get my legal fees back from the landlord if I win?
Usually, no, you will not. In certain cases you can, if you are persistent and have a good lawyer, and you establish that as an early objective of your case with your lawyer. Your lawyer will really prefer to get legal fees from your landlord instead of from you, but still needs to charge you up front. If you get legal fees, you get that money back.

Can I get a discount in my rent? For the lack of repairs, bugs, mold, no heat, or something?
Sometimes the judge will rule, or the lawyers will agree, on some reduction in your rent. It may be a tiny amount or a pretty large discount. A few people have permanent reductions in their rent. If very few cases, when landlords break many laws, tenants no longer have to pay rent, sometimes for many years, or get an offer to buy their apartment or building, at a very low price.

What if I win the case, or it looks like I'm going to win the case?
Normally you get to stay in the apartment. Some landlords will want to settle the case before it's over with a buyout. They will offer you $5,000 to move out. You, or your lawyer, will ask for $150,000 or more to move out. You will settle at something in the middle, and you will get a few more months to leave. Or you can just stay and keep living in the apartment.

But I have the right to stay in my apartment, it is mine, I own it, and get the money from the landlord, and get more money, and to keep the apartment, and they didn't repair what I said they should, and this is ridiculous, this is crazy, and besides...
Yes, yes. I agree. You are completely right. You need to complain to Congress, mobilize your friends and family to your cause, join a protest, and campaign for your rights. Politicians make the laws, not us, and they don't hear from you or me, so they make any law they want.

OK, just tell me who I need to talk to, what I need to do, and all that...
If you're living in a rental apartment, I think as bare minimum you should know your basic rights. Read the Attorney General's Tenant Rights guidelines. In addition you should be familiar with, and save the number, of two or three tenant's associations, and perhaps two tenants attorneys. One day, your landlord may become a problem. And you will want to know what to do and say, then and there.

A tenants only lawyer -

NYC tenants website and discussion forum -

A tenants association -

NYC Task Force on Housing -

Met Council on Housing -

NYS Attorney General Tenants Rights Guide

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