Thursday, January 10, 2013

Second class citizens


Wakefield Area News

By Mary V Lauro

BRONX, NEW YORK, January 10- All of these years we have helped scores of tenants deal with their landlords. Every now and then we realized that the small landlord, the one who owns a two or three-family house cannot be placed in the same category as the apartment building owner. But wait; let's make very clear that not all apartment building landlords are cut from the same cloth. There are many honest and decent landlords in the Bronx and the City who are judged not by their decency, but by the greed and indecent behavior of the less honorable landlords, the biggest of which is the City's own New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

For this reason, a certain segment of the population judges all landlords as rich, evil money grabbers. They view the rent they pay as extortion. They have no idea of the small landlord's struggle to pay real estate taxes, water charges, insurance and the cost of repairs. In most cases the landlord chose a two-family house so that the rental income could assist in paying the mortgage.

Apparently, our columns regarding evictions in two and three-family houses have struck a note. We received several calls from Wakefield residents and one from Queens. Essentially besides describing what their errant tenants were doing, the complaints focused on the feeling these small landlords had that they had no rights. Indeed it has often seemed that way.
What can a landlord do if the tenant decides to pay the rent at the end of the month instead of at the beginning? If he laughs at late charges? What can he do if the tenant does not recycle; if he runs the hot water endlessly; if he insists on keeping the hall light on all day; if he gives keys to strangers so that they use his apartment when he is not there; if he thinks they are trashing his apartment; etc.
We checked with Attorney General Schneiderman regarding any rights a landlord may have. Our phone call engendered some confusion. We were transferred to three individuals who could not respond. The fourth said “Of course he has rights. He can evict. A two-family house landlord does not even need a reason if there is no lease. It's called a Holdover Case.” Ah, yes! But that maybe, a costly proposition.
The easiest type of eviction process is for non payment of rent. It is only easy, however, if the tenant agrees to move or does not show up for his court appearance. A great deal depends on the judge too. A single mother holding her baby weeps. “Your honor I promise to look for a job. I'll pay him all the rent I owe him.” Sounds reasonable, except that is what she said twice before, so the landlord loses another two months rent on top of the year he has already lost. It is not easy for him to meet his obligations, but the judge has no time for his tears.
The other type of eviction as the Attorney General's office said requires no reason from the landlord provided there is no lease. The process begins with a notice to the tenant that he must, leave in 30 days or be evicted. If the tenant does not leave in 30 days which is generally the case, a court date is set, but not automatically. The typical landlord acting without an attorney (pro se) bounces back and forth from Housing Court on some quest or another be it the special legal forms that must be used, the court dates, and so on.
The first court date is to have the tenant and landlord come together to try to convince the tenant to leave. But why should he? From the outset of this process, the landlord cannot take rent from the tenant. If he does, it signifies that he is satisfied and will no longer pursue eviction. The tenant will take every opportunity and every guise to hold on to the rent-free apartment. Thus does the small homeowner become a second class citizen.

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