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Allen M. Turek, Partner, Turek Roth Mester. How can you effectively deal with a rent-controlled tenant who is a hoarder and also has special needs?
BACKSTORY We have recently been involved in the case of an elderly woman – a rent-controlled tenant in an apartment corporation – who is a hoarder with special needs. An inspection of the one-bedroom apartment by the building’s management revealed extremely hazardous conditions in the apartment. The apartment was a fire hazard with various personal belongings, newspapers, books, and garbage piled to the ceiling.
To make matters worse, the woman lived with her son, who made his mother sleep on a couch in the living room while he continued to accumulate so much property in the bedroom that the closet would not open and the walls were barely visible.
After the board’s letters and oral offers to the tenant to help her cure this hazardous condition were unsuccessful, the board was left with no other choice but to direct our firm to begin a holdover proceeding against the tenant and her son in housing court.
Once we got the case into court, matters became complicated because the woman and son were no longer on speaking terms and each hired different counsel.
The woman was able to get her living room area cleared and cleaned to an acceptable degree, but her son would not cooperate with his mother or abide by various court-ordered stipulations. After months of court appearances caused by the son’s failure to comply, we discovered that the son was actually living in a separate apartment in another New York City building. As such, we were finally able to settle the case with a “global” stipulation of settlement.
The stipulation provided that the son had to surrender his keys to the apartment and vacate within 30 days. The stipulation also provided for the son to remove all of his belongings from the bedroom and for bimonthly inspections by management for one year. In the event there was a default under the stipulation, the corporation’s remedy was to bring the matter to court for a hearing on the default. If the corporation could prove a default under the stipulation, it would be entitled to a judgment of possession and a warrant of eviction against the elderly tenant. Fortunately, the corporation has not needed to avail itself of these remedies.
COMMENT It was made clear to us by the board that the intention was never to evict this elderly tenant, and that is how we proceeded with this matter. The various members of the board had compassion for the tenant but were also properly concerned about the health and safety of the other residents. Therefore, the challenge in this case was to balance the goals of the client to provide a safe living environment for its shareholders and residents and at the same time be mindful of the delicate situation of the tenant and her circumstances. Ultimately, we were successful in accomplishing these goals and maintaining compassion and understanding for the elderly tenant’s condition.
From the Desk of AMT:
A contested vote was the reason that an annual shareholders’ meeting at a Brooklyn co-op ran from 7 P.M. to