An appeals court recently reversed a New York County judge who dismissed a lawsuit brought by a landlord, claiming that its tenants were maliciously harassing it to prevent the landlord from collecting rent and managing the property.
In Chelsea 18 Partners, L.P. v. Sheck Yee Mak, the landlord of a 26 unit walk-up filed a 43 page complaint seeking damages from the tenants of two rent controlled apartments. Prior to this lawsuit, the landlord had served the tenants with notices of termination. The tenants refused to vacate. Instead of seeking their eviction in landlord-tenant court, the landlord commenced an action in supreme court alleging nuisance, and seeking possession and monetary damages. The tenants moved for dismissal, arguing that the case belonged in landlord-tenant court. The lower court agreed. Upon appeal, the court disagreed with the determination that the lawsuit was based on non-payment and more appropriately brought in landlord-tenant court. The appeals court found that the landlord had amply alleged details of nuisance by claiming that:
The tenants illegally altered plumbing in both apartments, switching the position of the sink and the bathtub, and added outlets, switches and fixtures creating a hazardous electrical condition with exposed wiring. They then complained to the New York City Department of Buildings (hereinafter referred to as “DOB”) that the plumbing and electric in the apartments were defective, and the DOB and Environmental Control Board issued violations against the landlord requiring it to repair the tenants’ handiwork. The tenants thwarted the landlord’s attempts to cure the violations by refusing access to the apartment, and then applied for rent reductions based on the very same conditions that they refused to allow the landlord to repair. Over a period of three years, the tenants procured 76 Housing and Preservation Department violations against the landlord. No violations were lodged concerning other tenancies in the building.
The complaint further alleges that the tenants not only unjustifiably denied or failed to arrange access, but also, knowing of the agency and court-imposed deadlines, attempted to extort extra work from the landlord in return for access, such as a new linoleum floor and bathtub of the tenants’ choosing; and that tenant Michael Mak attempted to coerce the building superintendent to agree to a $50,000 penalty if the workers were late or the work was not completed to code.
The harassment by the Mak tenants allegedly extended to the landlord and its staff: the tenants allegedly physically obstructed work, videotaped, and threatened and intimidated the landlord’s workers by yelling and screaming at them. As a result, the building manager and superintendent were forced to remain in the apartments during the repairs to prevent altercations and to keep workers from walking off the job.
Michael Mak also allegedly accosted, harassed, and threatened the owner and operator of a café, the only commercial enterprise in the building, and filed meritless complaints with the New York Department of Environmental Protection for excessive noise. The tenants also threatened and intimidated the landlord’s attorney, including following him out of court hissing and muttering. On another occasion, the tenants refused to leave the building manager’s office after the landlord’s attorney declined to renegotiate a stipulation, and the police were summoned.
The complaint also chronicles the tenants’ unjustified withholding of rent, forcing the landlord to bring three nonpayment proceedings in Housing Court in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Additionally, the allegations of objectionable conduct include the tenants’ multiple, duplicative applications to the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal for rent and fuel cost reductions.
Given this conduct, the appellate court found that the case adequately addressed the nuisance and bad faith of the tenants and one that may be commenced in supreme court.