Landlord Part Deux (NYC edition)
April 25, 2014 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Our neighbors are complaining to our landlord about what seem really ridiculous matters, and he is sending letters threatening eviction. We pay our rent on time and try not to bother him. Please help me figure out what he might be thinking, how to deal with this, and what our rights are.

Previously, our landlord was hassling us about potential leaks. We took Mefite advice and began aggressively trying to manage the problem, while trying to figure out a new place to live/good timeframe to move. Now, the landlord sent a letter to us claiming that our neighbors have said that our daughter is throwing lit matches out the window and breaking storm drains. This seems...highly implausible to say the least. (Our daughter is ten and her irresponsibility does not manifest in those types of ways) The "evidence" is that they found a burnt out match on their windowsill. I asked her about it, and she said that she had not been doing that.

Our landlord seems to be taking their word on this, I think in his mind we're somehow "problem tenants", since he's yet again sent a letter threatening doom and Housing Court. I think he's well aware that in NYC, even going to Housing Court, even if you're right, is like the kiss of death for other landlords.

I don't know what to do. I don't know if he has a case, or how swift non-arrears evictions can be. If it's relevant, I also have a legal disability (PTSD) which is severely exacerbated by his behavior. We are willing to look for a place, but both work full time and don't have a lot of time/energy to be dealing with this right now - and also would need the deposit back in order to be able to put a deposit at the new place.

Please help me figure out:
What is he possibly thinking/coming from?
How can we defend ourselves?
Is he likely to be able to evict us?
How long will that process take if he does try?
posted by corb to Law & Government (17 answers total)
I know it's a bummer, but if he's threatening legal action, that'd be my signal to contact a lawyer.

In my past dealings with attorneys, I have found that the first meeting is generally free, you'll get an outline of possible options and outcomes, fees are discussed, then you make a decision on a course of action. It doesn't hurt to call and a 30-minute conversation might be all you need to get 90% of your information.

As to the first question, where he's coming from, it's anyone's guess. The paranoid person in me would be wondering if he was teeing up for the process and gathering the necessary documentation to pull it off.
posted by jquinby at 1:36 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Write a letter or email to the landlord.

Dear Landlord,

We really like living in the building and we're baffled at what we could have done to so upset the neighbors that they'd outright lie about our family. Your most recent letter states that the downstairs neighbors have seen my daughter throwing lit matches out the window and breaking storm drains. She has done nothing of the kind and these accusations and your subsequent threats of eviction are incredibly stressful to us.

I would appreciate if we could discuss the issues with you, before you send us letters threatening eviction and landlord tenant court. Imagine how you would feel if you were repeatedly wrongly accused and then threatened with the loss of your housing. It's very distressing and wholly unncessary.

I'd like to call you sometime next week to discuss what you think the issues are, and ways we can all work together to co-exist peacefully.



That's the start. I send it certified mail, and duplicate copy, with notification of being opened and read in email.

If you have a family lawyer, I'd loop her into the conversation, perhaps having her fire off a scary looking letter, if things don't resolve themselves.

I do find that if people can discuss the issues, and try to get them to see things from another perspective, that a lot of grief can be avoided.

Now, if your landlord is a gorgon, all bets are off. Then you have to kill it with fire.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:42 PM on April 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I used to be the landlord's representative of a small, privately owned building full time in NYC, and do it part time now (long distance from Florida) for a family business.

What is he possibly thinking/coming from?
There's no real way to tell this, but from your posts (two story house, one complaining neighbor) it doesn't seem that he lives in the building or has a personal issue with your race per se. I have seen landlords have a sudden change of heart, and it's usually due to realizing that they're making far less than they should on a unit, especially if the unit is being rented at a rate which makes it "rent stabilized" or has a longer lease that they can't immediately jack up to market value.

It could, however, be something personal, especially if the neighbors below you are close to him and they don't like you. He could be taking their word at face value, and absorbing their dislike of you as his own perception.

How can we defend ourselves?
Pay your rent on time, and look for another place to live. If the situation becomes more toxic, it won't be fun at all. Home is supposed to be a retreat, not a battle zone. I am very hesitant to suggest this, but if you want to make a landlord's life hell, call the housing department. Every building has a number of violations, from wiring not up to code, to plumbing, to structure. The inspector has to be let in to the building to get access (much like a vampire), but he can access all areas which are not locked, including your apartment. You will obviously need a reason to call 311, but consistent leaks, bad wiring, or any situation which may be dangerous are reasons to call.

Is he likely to be able to evict us?
Doubtful. Unless there are documented complaints of damage you are doing/have done to the building, official noise, health and quality of life complaints, or illegal activities being conducted by you, the tenant (corroborated by city employees or otherwise documented by video/witnesses) and you are paying your rent on time, there really isn't much he can do other than haul you into an overwhelmed housing court system who mainly focus on evicting tenants who are more than three months behind in rent. Also, if you are stabilized, it complicates matters for him if your child is attending a public school zoned for your address. The court takes into consideration the changes which may affect your child as well.

How long will that process take if he does try?
He will have to take you to court, provide notice, wait for a hearing date. This takes anywhere from 3-6 months. As long as you're still paying rent, it will be very difficult to provide a clear case of why he is evicting you based on little evidence. We have never taken anyone to court for anything other than non-payment of rent, which seems like it would be far more cut and dry than your situation. The quickest it has ever been resolved is 3 months.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:50 PM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

In your last question about this in January, you said your lease was up in "several months." So, presumably, the lease is up any time now, no? It's possible that he'd try to take some action before then, but it would be really imprudent of him to do so. It's costly and difficult to evict someone in NYC, and if the lease is almost up it would definitely not be worth the effort and expense. Of course, he might be crazy and just want to waste his money.

I say ignore the guy for now. Budget for a new deposit (because you may have trouble getting that back) over the remaining months of the lease. If you have trouble budgeting, I recommend YNAB. Move when the lease is up.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:50 PM on April 25, 2014

His letters to you documenting your "irresponsibilities" are pretty much what he's going to use against you when you move. You will NOT be getting your security deposit back. His paper trail has pretty much guaranteed it, especially if it's one-sided and you haven't equally followed up in writing asserting your position.

Eviction is a long process. It's likely it will be YOU who will take this LL to small claims court to get your deposit back. ASAP
posted by vivzan at 1:59 PM on April 25, 2014

We...also would need the deposit back in order to be able to put a deposit at the new place

That's not going to happen—you won't get your deposit back before you move out, much less before you sign a new lease elsewhere. It took us two months to get ours back, and that was from a non-antagonistic, well-organized landlord with hundreds of apartments.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:00 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you qualify based on income, you can seek a free legal services lawyer. This is the civil version of a public defender/Legal Aid lawyer and they are extremely well-versed in landlord-tenant issues.
posted by cushie at 2:04 PM on April 25, 2014

Response by poster: His letters to you documenting your "irresponsibilities" are pretty much what he's going to use against you when you move. You will NOT be getting your security deposit back.

This may be relevant if this is a thing? We paid a larger than normal security deposit in order to get the apartment - three months rent in advance. Would this be something he might try to do just so he can get to keep the security deposit?
posted by corb at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2014

Paying such a large deposit is probably not legal where you live. With all this going on, yYou need to find a tenants' rights organization - look in the phone book. The dead-tree phone book usually has excellent consumer information.
posted by theora55 at 2:10 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I should add: we are, in fact, determined to move when our lease is up (partially due to other information), but that's not for several months.

You said this in January - are you not close to your move at this point, three months later?

We...would need the deposit back in order to be able to put a deposit at the new place

You mention all of your previous rentals have been corporate rentals. I can't imagine a world in which you get your deposit back any earlier than AFTER you move out, and typically my experience has been that I get it back 1-2 months after I move out. You should stop planning on this, because it is a fantasy.

This guy is totally stressing you out. It may not seem like you have the time to plan a move, but you will have way less stress in your life once you've moved. Invest the time and get out of there.
posted by arnicae at 2:14 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came in to say the same thing one more dead town's last parade did.

Moving is expensive, and I'm sure there's a ton of people who really really wish it were possible to get the deposit back before making a new one, but it just isn't. The old landlord can't assess damages until you've left, because your stuff is in the way, and because you might damage something while moving out.

This may be relevant if this is a thing? We paid a larger than normal security deposit in order to get the apartment - three months rent in advance

Wait, did you pay 3 months rent in advance, or did you make a deposit equal to three times your monthly rent? Those are different things.
posted by aubilenon at 2:14 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Even if you landlord was going to give you your deposit back in full, he won't be giving it to you until well past when you'll need to put a deposit down on a new place. In NYC, landlords have up to 45 days after you move out to return it. Don't count on that deposit.
posted by juniperesque at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2014

Corb, 3 months in advance such as - first, last, and security, equal to 3 months of rent? Or a security deposit equal to 3 months rent separate from first and last? The former is normal, the latter, unusual.

Does your lease state in which cases he can keep the deposit? Is it spelled out?

I cannot speak for his motivations or whether it's a thing - I never experienced it while living in NY - but it's cause for concern, especially since you reported that he's been documenting your "damage" and mentioning eviction in practically every communication with you. That brought up red flags to me. Has he ever sent a repair person over after one of the water complaints? You might want to have one come over and identify the damage and state when it was caused and have that documented.
posted by vivzan at 2:18 PM on April 25, 2014

Response by poster: For clarity: our lease is up in the fall, which is what we were planning for - moving before the beginning of the next school year, so September - and would be ready to have a deposit for even if we didn't get back our deposit from this place. I've been pretty used to getting deposit back in check form during the walkthrough where you surrender your keys, but that was also outside NYC, and I will cheerfully admit that this place is apparently a hellhole for renting.

We paid a deposit equal to three months rent - so to get the keys, we gave five months rent. We had good income but bad credit, which I think is what is making me nervous about moving suddenly.
posted by corb at 2:21 PM on April 25, 2014

Ah ok. Understood.

So, if you're planning to move in the fall, you have time to start documenting like a religious fanatic. If you respond to his texts, save them all, but it's best to do things in writing, even as a follow up to a phone call or text.

1. Start taking pictures of everything.
2. When you communicate with him, send a certified letter.
3. Let him know in writing that you'll be putting down rugs with padding (assuming you don't have them) for the noise issues.
4. Assert that your child has not played with matches or damaged drains and that she's supervised at all times.
5. Water damage: put in writing that the tub has never overflowed and that if water is flowing into the downstair's neighbor, it must be from the pipes and that a repair person should come over and that you'll be happy to make yourself available to let that person in.
posted by vivzan at 2:32 PM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

re: your most recent update, I would definitely be concerned myself that this was a manufactured outrage situation created by the landlord to retain the huge deposit you left.

Also, from what I have seen it is difficult to swiftly successfully execute eviction proceedings in NYC - the person who was recently evicted from my building (for creating a health hazard) had their first notice of proceedings about 18 months ago. However, my experience has all been with multiple occupancy buildings, and IIRC you are in a 2-family house?
posted by elizardbits at 2:41 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I heartily second finding a lawyer for an initial consultation. That huge security deposit is a lot of money at stake.
posted by prefpara at 3:58 PM on April 25, 2014

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