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Suit aimed to stem housing court injustices.

Negotiations with the New York State court as a result of a suit brought against the Housing Court will create--and already is helping create--a judicial "level playing field" for owners for the first time in 25 years, attorneys Jay Goldberg and Michael Berger told 120 owners, managing agents and lawyers participating in the Bronx Realty Advisory Board's Annual Meeting.

Featured guest speakers at the Meeting, Goldberg and Berger are of counsel to Epstein, Becker and Green, which brought a suit against the Housing Court on behalf of the Rent Stabilization Association and the industry, BRAB President Ruben Klein noted.

During the Annual Meeting, BRAB members elected a slate of nine officers and 12 directors to head the business association, which represents owners and managers of some 2,000 affordable rental apartment buildings housing 150,000 people.

BRAB's Klein and its Secretary Michael Laub were cited by Goldberg and Berger as key supporters and prime movers of the Housing Court suit. Laub pointed out that the Housing Court had long been a problem for owners, and he cited several examples of injustices that owners experienced in the court. These included eviction suits for non-payment of rent that went on the trial calendar instead of being granted even though tenants had no valid reason for not paying rent.

The Housing Court suit was brought in Federal Court, the Southern District, under a strategy developed by Goldberg and Berger, the RSA and industry leaders. The Court was charged with Administrative injustices, violating the rights of owners under the U.S. Civil Rights Act--the same law used to protect minority groups.

The attorneys explained that they were able to cite examples of systemic and systematic bias against owners by the Court. They also reported abridgement of owners' rights, and court practices that prevented or obstructed owners from appealing decisions.

Goldberg and Berger observed that when the litigation was being planned two years ago, it had become apparent that certain Housing Court justices behaved as if they were biased against owners. When, prior to the suit, the judges had to "submit themselves" to deposition under oath, some acknowledged that they believed their job involved helping "to remedy the homeless problem" even though their actions violated owners' rights.

Research for the suit turned up numerous instances of court injustices, and BRAB's Klein noted that, at the request of the state court, negotiations were started about specific terms of the suit.

However, even while these negotiations have been under way, Klein emphasized, the Housing Court has become more accommodative of owners' needs. For years, the BRAB top official said, the Court has provided a "tenants' table" where aggrieved tenants and their lawyers could work. But there was no "landlords' table." Now there is a table for owners.

A topical review by BRAB Executive Director Carol Keenan, Esq., which is a regular part of the Annual Meeting program, highlighted current issues affecting owners. Keenan pointed out that the labor negotiations then under way with local 32BJ were important as a barometer to Bronx owners, whose service employees are represented by Local 32E and were not on strike. Keenan also cited:

* A suit attacking the DHCR's tenant succession rules on constitutional grounds. The case could be heard this fall.

* A proposal by the Department of Housing and Community Renewal to have New York's different rent regulatory systems combined into one system. This could be a negative change for the industry, she explained, because, under it, rent increases would be decided for all regulated buildings by the Rent Guidelines Board which consistently has underestimated owners' operating costs. If adopted, the new system also would eliminate necessary operation and maintenance violation filings for rent controlled apartments.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 22, 1991
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