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When Tenants Harass Other Tenants

November 1, 2014:  This post originally appeared on the LandlordsNY blog, where Michelle Maratto Itkowitz is the "Legal Expert".

Hi, Michelle here. I am the LandlordsNY “Legal Expert”. My goal is to post in the LandlordsNY blog most of the questions I get from LandlordsNY members (keeping the member anonymous) and my answers thereto, when I think that such questions and answers would be of interest to other people. Let me know if this is helpful.

Topic:  Tenant harassing other tenants.  

Question:  A tenant moved in to Apt 7G.  As soon as she moved in, she began complaining that the neighbor in 7F, next door, was making a lot of noise.  7F has been living there for 10 years with no prior complaints against him.  7G would bang on the wall and call the police at all hours of the night.  In fact, 7G called the police on just about everyone else on the floor too (different nights).  7F was so upset that she was going to break her lease.  We were able to relocate her within the building.

Once the 7F was relocated, someone started throwing jam at the door of and putting glue on the locks of 6F!  This happened three days in a row.  The fourth day 6F told us that a woman banged on her door at 2:00 a.m. complaining of noise from the wall that butts up against the "G" apts.  We showed her a pic of 7G and she identified her as the nighttime visitor.

Now 7G is stomping on the floor (awaking 6F, 6G, and 6H) and calling the police nightly.  7G is leaving messages for us four or five times per night about how she is being harassed by the downstairs neighbor.  6G now has had her door pelted w/ maple syrup & hot sauce!

We have put up a security camera facing 6G & 6Fs doors.  We have requested that all tenants being harassed send us a letter about it, so we have a written record.  For the past two nights 7G has been leaving messages about the noise but 6G is out of the country (obviously we didn't tell her this)!

We have told 7G that if she were truly miserable we would allow her to break her lease and move out penalty-free.  I've heard how difficult it is to remove a tenant by starting a holdover. Please, do you have any suggestions?

Answer:  What kind of tenancy is this – Rent Stabilized or Free Market?  If it is not a Rent Stabilized tenancy, then there is a logical end in sight.  When her lease ends do not renew her.  No reason needs to be given.

If you cannot wait for the expiration, or if the tenant is Rent Stabilized, you can attempt to terminate the lease for nuisance.  Nuisance requires multiple incidents of objectionable conduct.  Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Moldoff, 187 Misc. 458, (App. Term 1946), judgment aff'd, 272 A.D. 1039, (1st Dep't 1947).  You certainly have that!

A nuisance termination notice needs to be very detailed about the acts constituting nuisance.  You need to put the dates, times, and locations of each incident and then you need to describe each incident.  It looks like you have all the facts nicely organized already.  You should take all your notes and keep them together, and start a log (like an excel chart) where you write an entry with all the information for each thing that happened – date / location / incident description.  Save emails, phone messages, or notes from the tenants who are victims of the harassment.  

A nuisance proceeding can be settled with a “curative stipulation” in which the tenant admits to the objectionable behavior and agrees not to do it again upon pain of eviction.  A court will usually evict a tenant who enters into such a stipulation and then blatantly violates it.  

If there is no settlement, there will be a trial.  You have to be able to prove your allegations in court with evidence, i.e. live testimony from tenants, building personnel, pictures, documents, etc.  You can get the police reports too.  In this respect, it is good that you put in cameras.  But cameras alone will not do it.  You really need testimony.  The hardest part about these cases is that often the other tenants who are the victim of harassment are hesitant to come to court and testify.  However, the circumstances you describe would seem to justify serious consideration of the initiation of a nuisance proceeding.

You may have no choice but to start a case.  If the residents being harassed get mad enough, they might withhold rent and/or complain to DHCR about the situation.

Courts take these cases seriously.  Courts do not like to evict tenants, but they also do not let tenants harass other tenants.  

Finally, before resorting to or as preparation for litigation with this crazy tenant -- If the tenant is elderly, engage them in conversation and try to find out where their adult children are.  If the tenant is in bad enough shape (advancing Alzheimer’s for example), it might be a good thing to contact the children.  And/or you can call New York City Adult Protective Services, sometimes they can help --  I have successfully resolved situations in this way before – by getting the crazy tenant the help they really need.

The bottom line is that you are already doing the right thing here -- you are taking the situation seriously, and collecting all the information.  The biggest mistake landlords make is ignoring stuff like this.  Read more.

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