Case of the Week: Prospect Union Associates v. Bienvenida Dejesus and Carlos Dejesus

LandlordsNY Member

LandlordsNY Member

As we’ve said in at least one other post, hoarding presents a very difficult situation for both landlords and tenants. On the one hand, it is a symptom of an illness that is compulsory and beyond the control of the individual or, less commonly, individuals doing the hoarding. On the other, it can lead to structural damage that is virtually impossible to fix, create fire hazards, block means of ventilation and egress, and attract vermin or mold. This presents warranty of habitability issues for both occupants of the troubled unit and nearby tenants.

Because this is such a delicate issue, you should try to exhaust all options before taking tenants who have a penchant for hoarding to court. There are multiple organizations that will work with tenants and property managers or landlords to resolve a hoarding situation. If this doesn't work or the situation is severe, you should contact Adult Protective Services. Another course of action is to get a legal guardian appointed.

Court should only be an absolute last resort.

However, sometimes you don’t have a choice. If conditions in the apartment have attracted pests like roaches or bedbugs, it becomes likely that adjacent units will become infested, as well. This is unfair to these tenants and to landlords, as the inhabitants of these units could end up taking an owner to court for a breach of warranty of habitability. Despite the sympathies that anyone, a judge included, may have for those who are suffering from a condition that possesses them to hoard items, the integrity and habitability of the building will be more considered more important.

An action that was filed in Bronx Landlord Tenant Court not long ago, Prospect Union Associates v. Bienvenida Dejesus and Carlos Dejesus, reveals that even a landlord with good intentions and a seemingly limitless store of patience can find it next to impossible to get a hoarder to clean out a unit to the extent that an infestation problem can be cured. After the landlord filed a holdover summary proceeding and the court appointed a guardian ad litem for tenants, the parties entered into the first of three settlement agreements on October 22, 2015. The stipulation required tenants to prepare the apartment for bedbug extermination November 9, 2015. This did not happen. Two subsequent stipulations dated December 9, 2015 and January 6, 2016 provided landlord with a judgment of possession, but stayed the warrant of eviction unless the premises were cleaned and prepared for bedbug extermination by January 15, 2016. Tenants failed to comply and a warrant of eviction was issued.

The tenants appealed and filed a motion to vacate the judgment, but this was denied in March 2016. The court also denied the tenants attempts to vacate the stipulations of settlement. The stipulations were straightforward, and the guardian ad litem had regularly visited the tenants’ unit to attempt to help them. They simply refused to comply over the course of six months. They appealed the final judgment of eviction in favor of the landlord that had been filed on October 31, 2016. The Appellate Term, First Department ruled in favor of the landlord in a decision dated May 30, 2017, and the eviction judgment was upheld. It was clear that the nuisance conditions had not been abated and it was clear that the tenants had no intent to comply with orders that they clean the apartment.

What to take away: Even when you do everything by the books and time is of the essence, the courts won’t work very quickly on your behalf. In this instance, the tenants signed onto three different stipulations in bad faith and yet they were able to stay in their apartment for well over a year and a half before the appellate court concurred with the need for emergency action to save the other tenants from an infestation. The situation would make a Laputian lose patience.

It is likely that a case this straightforward could have been handled quickly, albeit more expensively, in Supreme Court.

Docket #570838/2016 (Appellate Term, First Division)

Prospect Union Associates v. Bienvenida Dejesus and Carlos Dejesus

Decided on May 30, 2017

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