How to live through a lawsuit when your landlord sets you up for eviction

I just heard a landlord-tenant legal story that made me feel like rushing immediately over to the tenants’ home and soothing them.

The tenants are a New York couple who live in a rent-stabilized apartment, which itself is within a residential building that became a co-op quite a while ago. At the time of the co-op offering, the couple decided not to buy, but to stay on as rent-stabilized renters.

It was their right thus to decide. They knew they were protected by specific terms in the Proprietary Lease (the co-op Constitution) which the other tenants, who did decide to buy, signed.

When tenants decided not to buy an apartment as their building becomes a co-op, the landlord, now terminologically transformed into The Sponsor of the co-op, either has to keep the apartment shares (and pay the maintenance and all other related co-op costs), or try to sell the shares. But not too many of us potential buyers want to buy a co-op apartment with a permanent rent-stabilized renter, especially one whose rent is lower than the monthly maintenance.

The people I heard about, long-time tenants, felt themselves legally and morally safe from any landlord depredations. But their landlord has aggressively started eviction proceedings against them.

He (how natural it is for me to assume the landlord is indeed a “he”) is doing really unpleasant things to harass the tenants and shove them out the door. Things like lying, making up stuff—stuff that would be legal reasons to evict … except none of it is true.

For instance: after some damage was done to their apartment (by a leak, I think), they asked to have the damage repaired. And the landlord claimed they had failed to give access to repair the damage. I mean, this landlord is suggesting that these tenants won’t allow the landlord’s repair people into their apartment to repair the damage? They’re just saying, no, it’s OK, never mind us, we’ll just sit here with the plaster falling on our heads?

Yeah, right.

How can something like this happen? Although I’m not in a similar position (I am, after all, a shareholder in the co-op and “own,” in a sense, my own apartment), I do have that magical document called the Proprietary Lease that contains all the laws and bylaws and rules and regulations and can-dos and can’t-dos of the co-op life.

And since Proprietary Leases are, as I’ve mentioned, boilerplate, let me quote the section regarding non-buying tenants from my own Lease:


No Eviction Proceedings

8B (b) Lessee [the Sponsor or whoever does own the apartment shares] may not commence eviction proceedings against such non-purchasing tenant at any time for any reason applicable to expiration of tenancy; provided that such proceedings may be commenced for non-payment of rent, illegal use or occupancy of the premises, refusal of reasonable access to the Lessee or a similar breach by the non-purchasing tenant of his obligations to the Lessee; and provided further that the Lessee may not commence action to recover possession of the Apartment from the non-purchasing tenant on the grounds that the Lessee seeks the Apartment for the use and occupancy of himself or his family.

Isn’t it suspicious that the section I highlighted seems to be exactly the excuse the landlord is using to evict the tenants? I guess they must be good tenants, paying their rent and not doing illegal things in the apartment.

This couple, I was told, does not have my savoir-faire about lawsuits and are wretched.

Sidebar hasn’t yet gone deeply into the How to Live Through Your Lawsuit stage. That is, practical advice about preventing repetitive anxiety attacks. So let me do a little bit of that in subsequent columns, if only for these tenants in this unsettling position.

Meanwhile, I know they have a good lawyer and I know the lawyer has explained the legal position to them.

So my first piece of advice is: lean back on your lawyer and on the law. They will support you.


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