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The Ins and Outs of Landlord-Tenant Disputes: An Interview with Peter A. Schwartz of Graubard Miller

By Peter Schwartz

Please tell us a little bit about your firm and the areas of law that you practice.

Graubard Miller is a 60-year-old general practice firm. The firm has several main areas: corporate, litigation, real estate, trusts and estates, tax, and employment law. Within the real estate department, our practice includes purchase/sale and finance of properties, commercial leasing, cooperatives and condominiums, landlord/tenant law, rent regulation, and real estate litigation.

Is there a common misconception that people have about landlord-tenant law?

Unlike commercial landlord/tenant matter that are more uniform, the rights and obligations of residential property owners and tenants often depend upon the regulatory status of the individual housing units, whose status may differ among apartments within the same building. For example, a building may have free market tenants living adjacent to rent-stabilized tenants and/or rent-controlled tenants. Some buildings may have units occupied by section 8 tenants. Certain buildings may have cooperative tenant-shareholders or condominium unit owners.

What are some of the most common types of landlord-tenant disputes that you've seen arise?

Some of the most common are: (a) summary proceedings based upon lease defaults--both commercial and residential; (b) summary proceedings to recover a regulated apartment for the owner's own use or use by an immediate family member of the owner; (c) summary proceedings to recover an apartment where a regulated tenant does not live in an apartment as his or her primary residence; (d) proceedings before the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for luxury deregulation of a rent stabilized or controlled apartment; (e) complaints to DHCR of rent overcharge of a rent stabilized tenant; among many others.

Can you briefly explain the basic rights that tenants have when it comes to disputes with their landlord?

The rights of commercial tenants are usually governed by their leases. For residential tenants, in addition to rights specified in the leases, the law implies within leases a warranty of habitability, i.e., that the premises are in habitable condition. The Real Property Law also provides certain rights to sublet or assign leases. Rent-regulated tenants (including ETPA tenants) generally have rights to indefinite renewal leases, potential succession rights, limits on rent increases, and a right to a continuation of a level of services, among others.

What obligation does a landlord in NY state have after being notified about a tenant's rental problem?

If a tenant fails to pay the lawful rent, the landlord must make an oral or written demand for the rent before it may commence a summary eviction proceeding in Court to recover possession of the apartment and unpaid rent. Similarly, written notices are required before an owner may commence most other eviction proceedings.

When should homeowners who are having problems with their landlord consult a lawyer?

If a landlord or tenant is not complying with obligations under the lease or law and continues to do so, even after notice, it may be helpful to consult with counsel. These may include violations of substantial obligations of the tenancy as well as certain claims under the Rent Stabilization Law or the Emergency Tenant Protection Act.

Do you have any tips to help tenants/renters successfully resolve an issue with their landlord?

It is often helpful to keep communications in writing. There is a record of what was said and when and less chance of the other side forgetting about the issue.

What's the best way for people to contact your firm?

My email is pschwartz@graubard.com, and you can call me at 212-818-8686. Visit our new web site at www.graubard.com.

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About The Author

Mr. Schwartz has more than twenty-five years of experience in real estate transactions...

Phone: 212-818-8686

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