Pitted against a headache rent stabilized tenant that filed a complaint with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (“DHCR”) seeking damages for, inter alia, harassment and invasion of privacy, a landlord, who had recently sold the building after this complaint was filed, retained Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. to defend it in the case. In light of the tenant’s harassment complaint, ALBPC’s client had to put up a sizable sum into escrow to protect the subsequent purchaser from any damages resulting from the tenant’s harassment complaint.
Having only acquired ownership of the subject building approximately one year prior to the filing of the tenant’s harassment complaint, ALBPC’s client was still in the process of overcoming the major hurdle of piecing together the files that were improperly maintained by the prior owner’s managing agent.
Due to an inadvertent clerical error, which was caused by the prior owner’s poor file maintenance and improper record keeping, ALBPC’s client incorporated the incorrect rental increases on the tenant’s proposed lease renewal. On the very next day, by e-mail, ALBPC’s client apologized for the inadvertence and a corrected lease renewal form was provided to the tenant, which the tenant executed and returned to ALBPC’s client. Despite this, the tenant falsely alleged in her complaint that she still had yet to receive a proper lease renewal form.
In addition, the tenant alleged that ALBPC’s client intentionally and maliciously threw away newspapers and magazines that were delivered to her doorstep, and invaded her privacy by searching through her trash. The tenant also falsely alleged in her complaint that ALBPC’s client refused to replace a heating unit in the bedroom of her apartment and failed to install window guards.
Lastly, the tenant asserted that ALBPC’s client’s representatives engaged in some form of wrongdoing by inquiring as to the identity of the tenant’s numerous transient guests, and the installation of a security camera which purportedly aimed directly into the subject apartment.
In preparation for the hearing on the tenant’s specious harassment claims, ALBPC performed extensive due diligence on behalf of the client. First, ALBPC reviewed and analyzed the client’s documentation for purposes of confirming that the incorrect rental amounts listed on the tenant’s lease renewal were merely inadvertent clerical errors on the client’s part. Next, ALBPC conferred directly with the client’s representatives and researched the relevant case law to invalidate the tenant’s remaining claims concerning the client’s alleged failure to make repairs and false invasion of privacy claims.
At the DHCR hearing, ALBPC began by arguing that the inadvertent errors with regard to the tenant’s lease renewal offer – which had since been rectified – certainly did not rise to any level of harassment.
With respect to the tenant’s claims that the landlord improperly disposed of her mail, ALBPC pointed out that the landlord’s representatives are forced to throw away the tenant’s newspapers and magazines every morning because the accumulation of such mail outside of her door creates a tripping hazard and makes it difficult for the landlord’s employees to clean the common areas of the building. Further, even assuming that the tenant’s assertion that the landlord’s agents invaded her privacy by searching through her trash was true, which the client denied, ALBPC proffered well-settled law standing for the proposition that individuals do not have an inherent right to privacy in their trash or garbage and thus, this did not amount to invasion of privacy.
On cross-examination, ALBPC forced the tenant to admit that she had repeatedly allowed a number of other people to reside in the apartment without authorization or notification to management. Accordingly, ALBPC argued that pursuant to the client’s security measures, unknown occupants are stopped and asked to identify themselves in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the residents of the building. ALBPC further showed that the security camera that the landlord had installed was aimed at the common hallway areas of the building, not inside the tenant’s unit, and had since been removed by the landlord.
Additionally, armed with all of the correspondence that was exchanged between the tenant and the landlord, ALBPC constrained the tenant into conceding that the landlord had performed all necessary repairs in her apartment.
Critically, feeling that she was losing on all of her arguments at every turn, the tenant finally capitulated by yelling out that she was “only looking for a buyout” showing that her harassment claims against the landlord were palpably without merit, and were advanced in an improper attempt on her part to increase her buyout figure.
ALBPC’s client also stated that despite all of the landlord’s efforts to properly manage and maintain the building, the tenant, who was a constant headache, had been consistently combative and hostile with management and the building staff and its contractors. In closing, ALBPC argued that given the tenant’s open concessions that she just wanted to be bought out by the landlord at the highest possible price, she was improperly using the DCHR as a vehicle to advance her pecuniary interests.
In agreeing with all of ALBPC’s arguments, the DHCR dismissed the tenant’s baseless harassment complaint, which in turn allowed the client to recover the substantial sum that it had placed in escrow in connection with its sale of the building.
ALBPC attorneys Dov Treiman, Massimo F. D’Angelo and Carolyn Z. Rualo handled the matter on behalf of the client.