Jury Verdict: No Rent Abatement for Tenant Claiming Roaches, Mice, Bed Bugs, and an Elevator Out of Operation
Preparing for trial
The tenant owed 12 months rent. Appearing for the tenant, pro bono, was one of the best lawyers to practice in housing court. Representing the landlord, Adam Leitman Bailey had several hurdles to overcome. There was no argument that the building needed repairs. There was no doubt vermin had entered the building, and the elevator sometimes was out of service causing the tenant to walk three flights of stairs.
Discovering the evidence
Adam Leitman Bailey visited the building before the trial to learn the facts underlying the charges against the landlord. He visited the floor where the tenant lived and collected clues to present to the jury. The tenant’s door was left open which provided Adam Leitman Bailey with some excellent defenses to this case. The tenant claimed he did not have to pay rent because of conditions in his apartment that the landlord allegedly refused to fix. The apartment had food all over the floor. The apartment was a complete mess without any care given to it. The argument came easy—how can the landlord prevent bed bugs and rodents and roaches when the tenant decides to use its floor as a garbage pail and fails to clean its counter?
Preparing the law
Adam Leitman Bailey prepared a memo of law to present at the trial to use as a model to frame the landlord’s case. Each argument he anticipated the tenant would make would be countered with case law by the Adam Leitman Bailey memo.
Preparing the witnesses
When preparing the witnesses for the landlord, Adam Leitman Bailey demanded they tell only the truth and explained that one lie would lose the trust of the jury. As Adam Leitman Bailey prepared the landlord’s witnesses, he learned more and more about the building and came up with the winning defense: that the landlord cannot do repairs when it does not know they exist. Adam Leitman Bailey would not deny that repairs were needed, but he would present evidence showing the systematized way in which the landlord responds to tenants’ complaints and makes repairs to the building. He would show that tenants could request an exterminator by signing a sheet that the landlord posted on a bulletin board in the lobby. Likewise, a tenant could request the landlord to fix a broken appliance by completing a form the landlord made available for that purpose and notifying the building manager.
Picking the jury
Adam Leitman Bailey wanted a certain type of juror. And without giving away any secrets on selecting the best jury, he knew that some jurors were never going to rule in the landlord’s favor no matter what the true facts were. Therefore, in order to remove those jurors most likely to vote against the landlord, he worked hard to fashion questions that would trap those potential jurors into showing their bias or into making anti-landlord comments that would provide grounds on which the judge could dismiss each biased juror “for cause.” Some of the potential jurors had non-payment cases pending against them. Others admitted they would never decide against a tenant. Other potential jurors thought that all apartments should be rent regulated, and still other potential jurors believed that all landlords were evil. Adam Leitman Bailey was looking for property owners and law and order men and woman. He especially liked investment bankers that owned apartments, persons working in professions involving law and order, and people that had voted for Ronald Reagan. Although the questions to the potential jurors were offbeat, somewhat offensive, and overly personal, by the time the jury was selected, Adam Leitman Bailey was satisfied that the people constituting the jury were competent and would fairly judge the evidence in deciding between right and wrong.
The Jury Trial
At trial, the tenant admitted on the stand that he had never contacted the landlord to request repairs to his apartment. He also admitted that he did not always clean his apartment, and he recognized pictures of the food all over his apartment. He admitted to having never asked the exterminator to enter his apartment and that the exterminator was only allowed to enter the apartment after the case had been commenced when the landlord insisted that the exterminator be granted access. The tenant’s legal team brought in several other tenants in the building to testify in his behalf. This tactic completely backfired on cross examination. Each tenant who took the stand agreed that the rules of the building were not only in place but also followed by management. They all confirmed never having entered the tenant’s apartment, and they all stated that the elevator worked regularly without interruption. They all testified to their own problems with the landlord, but they were all impeached when Adam Leitman Bailey presented the evidence of how each one of them was also being sued for non-payment of rent. Adam Leitman Bailey had also obtained the criminal reports of those witnesses, and none of them had a clean record. All of them had a motive to testify against the landlord, and none of them could relate their facts to the present case.
Despite the evidence Adam Leitman Bailey had pulled together, he could not overcome the fact that the tenant’s apartment did need repairs. The jury had a difficult decision to make, but after a little less than eight hours, the jurors came to the unanimous conclusion that no rent abatement should be awarded and decided in the landlord’s favor.
Adam Leitman Bailey conducted the trial on behalf of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.