Legal Aid Saves Apartment of Disabled Tenant
THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2016

Matthew Tropp, Supervising Attorney in the Civil Practice's Bronx Neighborhood Office, won a major victory for a disabled tenant when an appellate court upheld a Bronx Housing Court judge's decision to return the tenant to his apartment after he was evicted for nonpayment.

The Appellate Division, First Department, said Civil Court Judge Javier Vargas had "providently exercised" his discretion, noting that the tenant, Ronald Pickett, had lived in the apartment for 30 years, and a month after being evicted, paid the rent arrears plus the landlord's attorney's fees, totaling $14,000.

Pickett, with the help of The Legal Aid Society, was able to obtain seven stays of eviction over a two-year period, on the promise of curing the arrears. New arrears accrued by the time the promised payments were made and the Bronx Housing Court declined to give Pickett another stay. An emergency grant from the City's Department of Human Resources allowed Pickett, who lives on Social Security, to pay the rent and attorneys fees. Vargas then granted Pickett's motion to restore the unit to him a month later.




New York Law Journal
Court's Return of Disabled Tenant to Apartment Upheld
By Ben Bedell
January 21, 2016

A Bronx Housing Court judge's decision to return a disabled tenant to his apartment after he was evicted for nonpayment was upheld by an appellate court.

The Appellate Division, First Department, said Civil Court Judge Javier Vargas had "providently exercised" his discretion, noting that Ronald Pickett had lived in the apartment for 30 years, and a month after being evicted, paid the rent arrears plus the landlord's attorney's fees, totaling $14,000.

But Justice David Saxe, in a concurrence, said the legal standard for reversing an eviction was too lax and "forces landlords to serve as de facto no-interest lenders to low-income tenants."

A warrant of eviction was initially awarded to Pickett's landlord, Lafayette Boynton Housing, in October 2011 when his rent was $5,200 in arrears.

Pickett, with the help of The Legal Aid Society, was able to obtain seven stays of eviction over a two-year period, on the promise of curing the arrears.

However, new arrears had accrued by the time those promised payments were made, "so the landlord was still not made whole by those eventual payments, and the cycle of extensions and only partial payments continued," Saxe wrote.

The Bronx Housing Court declined to give Pickett another stay and he was evicted in September 2013.

An emergency grant from the City's Department of Human Resources allowed Pickett, who lives on Social Security, to pay the rent and attorneys fees. Vargas then granted Pickett's motion to restore the unit to him a month later.

Saxe, noting that the state's Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law does not expressly allow a court to vacate a warrant of eviction after the eviction has taken place, said such relief should be granted only where "incorrect assumptions or findings were made in issuing the warrant of eviction that undermines the basis for its issuance in the first place," rather than merely "for good cause."

"It is shameful that we are relying on the private property owners who happen to rent apartments to such tenants, requiring them to cover the shortfall for months, or even years, rather than, as a society, making sure that elderly and disabled low-income tenants have access to the necessary funds in a timely manner so they can stay current on their rent," Saxe said.

The majority's ruling in Lafayette Boynton Hsg. Corp. v. Pickett was joined by Justices Angela Mazzarelli, Rolando Acosta, and Rosalyn Richter.

Horing Welikson & Rosen partner Niles Welikson argued for the landlord.

Matthew Tropp of The Legal Aid Society represented Pickett.