Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Justice denied for home owners

Wakefield Area News
By Mary V. Lauro
BRONX, NEW YORK, September 26- Her voice trembled. She was choking back tears. "Not one penny. The judge said he owed me nothing. He hasn't paid rent for five months. That's $4,500. But she said he owes me nothing. How can that be?"
“Can you get rid of him? Is he being evicted?”
“Yes, but I have to give him about two weeks to clear-out. That's another month I won't be paid. How will I pay my mortgage, the fuel bills, real estate tax and my insurance?"
She was not the landlord of an apartment building with 20 or 30 units. It was a two-family house with one tenant and his wife. Like so many seniors in the community the rent supplemented her social security check. Without that rent, she was almost penniless. Her life savings had been sunk into a down payment for the house.
Unfortunate1y, the caller was only one of a growing number of two-family home owners who are facing what a generation ago was an isolated incident: the need to evict. What else can one do? These are not usual cases where the breadwinner loses his job, or a tragedy occurs or the tenant tries to make arrangement to pay back rent. Not at all. The perpetrators have an attitude of “Who is going to make me pay the rent?" The word has spread that it is next to impossible to collect unpaid rent beginning with the judges who have lost sight of justice.
Everything seems to be geared towards the tenant. The Attorney General's office issues a booklet on Tenants Rights directed at individuals who live in rent controlled apartment houses. There is nothing similar for landlords, or for that sub species of landlord, the owner of a two family house. The Borough President recently sponsored a forum on the rights of tenants with a star studded panel of experts. Very interesting, but there was nothing on tenant’s obligations or landlord's rights or the sad plight of a two family house.
It is true that the landlord of a two or three-family house can evict a tenant for reasons other than non payment of rent if there is no lease involved and the house is not rent controlled. It is called a "Holdover Case." However the process is long and even without a lawyer becomes costly mainly because the tenant usually does not pay rent during the process. Why would a landlord want to get rid of a tenant who does pay rent? The reasons are many: loud music, too much noise, use of drugs, bad attitudes, renting out part of the apartment, paying rent in a haphazard manner, refusing to recycle garbage, keeping an unclean apartment, etc.
The first step in a holdover case is to send via a process server a form letter notifying the tenant that he has 30 days to vacate before eviction process begins. If the tenant does not vacate the apartment, then the landlord goes to housing court for a date to see a judge. By this time the tenant owes at least two months rent, but as the devastated senior cried, it could be five months.
This whole process for the two and three-family home is so obviously in need of reassessment, one wonders why our elected officials do not pay it some attention. Non-payment of rent is a form of theft. It is a crime that goes unreported and it is, for the landlord, justice denied.

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