By Eileen O’Toole, Esq., Contributing Editor
The NY State Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, comprised of the State Attorney General’s office, the DHCR’s Tenant Protection Unit (TPU), DOB, and the NYC Dept. of Law, recently announced a settlement agreement with a NYC landlord of 188 buildings containing about 1,000 apartments, after investigation of numerous complaints over several years concerning violations, unsafe conditions, and harassment. Many of the tenants involved are rent regulated. In the Assurance of Discontinuance signed in Matter of Greenbrook Holding LLC (LVT #32292), the landlord agreed to strict oversight of construction activities as well as compliance with neglected registration requirements. For 10 buildings with the most serious conditions, the landlord also agreed to pay $100,000 in violation penalties, and must pay all current tenants who moved in on or before July 1, 2021, a $7,500 rent credit.
Several recent DHCR and court decisions highlight points of interest under rent stabilization. One case involved a recurring question as to whether high-rent vacancy deregulation during the period starting with the Rent Act of 2015 on July 27, 2015, and ending with HSTPA on June 14, 2019 (when vacancy deregulation was repealed) required a “buffer tenant.” In Matter of 80th Realty LLC (LVT #32263), the DHCR relied on an appeals court decision in 326 Starr, LLC v. Martinez (see LVT #31858) to reverse its prior position that the unit in question here remained rent stabilized rather than vacancy-deregulated because the last prior rent before a vacancy rent that exceeded the deregulation threshold had been rent stabilized.
In West 49th St., LLC v. O’Neill (LVT #32281), an eviction case involving succession rights claimed by an apartment occupant after the death of a rent-stabilized tenant, the court denied landlord’s motion to dismiss the occupant’s claim that he was a nontraditional family member because he maintained a polyamorous relationship with the tenant, secondary to the tenant’s long-term relationship with his partner. The court found that a trial was needed to determine the facts, noting that a non-monogamous relationship didn’t automatically preclude the occupant’s succession claim.
An appeals court reversed a DHCR decision that had initially been upheld by a lower court in First NY LLC v. DHCR (LVT #32290). The DHCR denied a landlord’s demolition application because the landlord didn’t submit requested post-demolition plans or proof of financial ability for any post-demolition project. The App. Division, First Dept. noted that the Rent Stabilization Code required landlord only to demonstrate its good faith intent and financial ability to perform the proposed demolition itself. The court pointed out that in 2000, an amendment to the code “specifically deleted the very requirement that DHCR imposed on petitioner here.”
In Housing Court, issues concerning both ERAP stays as well as the effect of the acceptance of ERAP funds continue to pop up. Citing “public policy,” the Bronx court in River Park Residences LP v. Williams (LVT #32296), held that landlord’s acceptance of ERAP funds didn’t prevent eviction of a tenant, due to the sale of narcotics in her apartment. And in Savy Properties 26 Corp. v. James (LVT #32289), a Brooklyn court refused to vacate an ERAP stay, even though the building was a four-family house, the tenant was unregulated, the tenancy had been terminated pre-pandemic, the proceeding had previously been stayed until January 2022 due to the eviction moratorium, and the landlord asserted that it wouldn’t participate in the ERAP program.
Finally, a federal court dismissed claims by a group consisting of two Westchester property owner organizations along with some individual building owners. In Apt. Owners Advisory Council v. Marks (LVT #32294), the plaintiffs contended that tenant protections implemented by the NY State court system were unconstitutional. The court found that the two owner organizations and most of the building owners had no standing to pursue these claims since their activities hadn’t been impeded by the eviction moratorium laws. And, since the laws in question had expired, the plaintiffs’ claims were now largely moot.