A recent Manhattan housing case has given all Queens landlord tenant lawyers some cause for concern. Their unease stems from the fact that the court found in favor of the tenant, but the lawyer–not the landlord–was the one held liable.
Rafael Lee, an 82-year-old immigrant, has lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan since his arrival in the United States in 1965. His rent is set at $790.30 a month, but he also has a $400.00 rent subsidy from the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption program. A notice was given to Mr. Lee that eviction proceedings had been initiated against him for nonpayment of rent, but the figures did not take into account his $400 rent subsidy. Mr. Lee quickly obtained a lawyer, who informed the landlord’s law firm of the error. Once the law firm verified that a mistake had been made, they initiated a motion to discontinue the case against Mr. Lee.
His home was safe, but Mr. Lee felt that the anxiety and distress he had suffered deserved some compensation. Therefore, he filed a lawsuit for damages. A judge determined that the landlord’s law firm had initiated the eviction proceedings based on incorrect business records provided by the landlord’s management company. The judge ruled that the attorneys should have verified those records more carefully before filing their case and held the law firm liable for damages. Rather than go to court to determine the amount, the firm reached a settlement with Mr. Lee for $22,000 plus $108,000 in legal fees
This case sets an unusual precedent for Queens landlord tenant lawyers and indeed for all lawyers in this practice area. The court’s decision was based on a federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is designed to hold debt collection agencies accountable for any errors that they make. Law firms have reacted to this decision by instituting procedures to verify information provided to them by their clients in an effort to protect against future lawsuits of a similar nature.
If you own rental property and employ a Queens landlord tenant lawyer, it is important to be sure that your attorney is careful and accurate in his data collection. Although this case found the attorney to be liable, there is no guarantee that a future case may not hold a landlord culpable as well. The Witkon Law Firm is ready to help you with all aspects of New York’s complex and ever-changing landlord tenant law. Contact the office today for a free consultation on how to protect yourself from lawsuits like this one.