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Shocker: Landlords Are Unhappy When Judges Favor Tenants

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Welcome to the latest installment of Things Landlords Get Pissed About. In today's episode, New York property owners are unhappy with a string of court decisions handed down over the last five years by the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals. Since the appointment of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in 2009, who is a Democrat, landlords (and even some lawyers) allege that landlord-tenant disputes heard by the court's panel of six judges all too frequently come out in favor of—surprise!—the tenants. (Especially the rent-stabilized ones.)

The Journal's writeup on the claims of bias cites two cases resolved in the last month alone in which rent-stabilized residents came out on top. One that involved a technical interpretation of the word "penalty" in a law had the net effect of allowing lawyers to file class-action suits on behalf of stabilized tenants in order to reclaim back rent that was overcharged. A second, the well-publicized case of longtime East Village denizen Mary Veronica Santiago Monteverde, ruled that a rent-stabilized apartment cannot be used as an asset in bankruptcy; that is, even if tenants face financial hard times, their leases cannot be seized and sold to pay off creditors. So some think the people making these calls are "very fond of taking landlord-tenant cases and ruling in favor of tenants even if that means overturning past precedents and logical thinking."

Lippman declined to comment on specific cases, but defended the Court of Appeals' decisions. He said that the six judges on the panel look at each situation individually, and without heed to Democrat or Republican influences. (Even though some legal experts think the latter kind of objectivity is well nigh impossible.)

It comes down to the fact that folks involved in these cases are split according to their own biases. On the one hand, a lawyer who represents rent-regulated landlords says that the court has "become creative in reading into the law"; meanwhile, a law professor who represented Santiago Monteverde in her battle to hold onto a $703/month apartment says the judges "are interested in the concerns of tenants and that is something that resonates with them." They'll never see eye to eye, will they now?
· Landlords Claim Court Bias in Favor of Tenants [WSJ]
· Rent stabilization coverage [Curbed]
· Landlord Beefs archive [Curbed]