THE ART OF EVICTION...BROOKLYN STYLE
There is something about Brooklyn that gives everything a certain flavor that you can’t find anywhere else. Think Brooklyn pizza, Brooklyn Italian bread, Brooklyn attitude…there’s something in the water—or as my Brooklynite grandfather would say, “Fuhgeddabouuuutit!” Well the same rule holds with practicing law in Brooklyn, especially in Housing Court. There, the Universe is upside down. It is a world unto itself.
When I first started landlord-tenant practice in Brooklyn, I experienced a kind of culture shock. To be sure, New York State Courts are not exactly finishing schools for the genteel; however, there is a degree of civility and a certain expectation of professional courtesy—at least in Supreme Court—that I had become accustomed to at the beginning of my career. The classic example is the simple request for an adjournment. For the uninitiated, that’s lawyer talk for postponing a court appearance. Generally, adjournments are freely given in Supreme Court. It’s considered bad form to deny the request, otherwise you may open yourself to “bad calendar karma”, as I like to call it. The Universe has an uncanny way of conjuring all sorts of scheduling conflicts or some Act of God that requires you, in turn, to ask your adversary for that once denied adjournment.
No Adjournments in Kings County Housing Court!
Yet somehow the adjournment rule does not apply in Brooklyn Housing Court. There, the Universe is upside down. Calendar karma is defied with impunity. As a rule, landlord attorneys will deny adjournments, even when they know very well the Court is going to grant the request over their vociferous objections.
I recall being retained by a desperate rent-stabilized tenant. He found me in the corridor of Housing Court, and said he needed an attorney that very day. I agreed to take the case last minute fully expecting that the landlord’s attorney would agree to a brief adjournment—the usual thirty days, nothing extravagant. The response I received was startling. “NO CHANCE!”, growled my new opponent. My request was summarily denied, and I was further advised that she intended to go to trial that very afternoon! There was a happy ending to this story, however. The Court did grant my request for more time, and in the end I won the case…but that’s not the point of the story…
Brooklyn Landlord/Tenant Attorney
Sun Tzu on The Art of War: "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight."
The Paradoxical Secret to Eviction is Non-Eviction
The lesson to be learned is this: landlords in Brooklyn Housing Court are in an unenviable position. For them, time literally is money, and the Housing Court Judges (with all due respect) tend to be very generous with the landlord’s time to the advantage of tenants. An adjournment means one less month of rent. That’s why landlord attorneys generally refuse to give adjournments.
So what is the takeaway for Brooklyn landlords?
Sun Tzu, the great Chinese strategist, teaches thus, “It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill… He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
Fighting a tenant in Housing Court, especially in Brooklyn, is to advance against the enemy uphill. Even if you ultimately prevail, it will be at great cost. It is the least efficient way to throw a tenant out.
The easiest way to get rid of a tenant is to help him (or her or them) find another place to stay and relocate them. That’s right. Pay them to move out and help them find another place. Why would I say such a thing?
Put aside emotions, and think numbers. Let’s say a tenant pays $1200/month, and has now failed to pay rent for one month. You decide to take the tenant to court. Typically, it takes about one month before you can see a judge. Now you’re at $2,400.00. Thereafter, if the tenant comes in, he/she can request the all-important adjournment to find an attorney. The case will be delayed for another month. Now you’re $3600 in the hole, and the case has not been heard yet. While it is true the judge may demand that the tenant pay what’s called
“use and occupancy charges” during the pendency of the proceeding, all-too-often your tenant has no money. By the time the actual eviction occurs (after the tenant files numerous Orders to Show Cause), you may be losing six months’ worth of rent or more-that’s $7,200 worth of rent from a penniless, non-collectible tenant—and that’s not including what you paid your attorney in the meantime....
That’s the bad news. So what strategy should the Brooklyn landlord take to avoid this exercise in futility? First, it is worth it to start—but not finish—an eviction in order to put some pressure on the recalcitrant tenant. Once your foot is in court, you or your attorney should approach the tenant and help them look for a new place to live--even to cover part of their relocation costs. Remember, think dollars and cents. How much are you willing to pay in order to lose LESS? In other words, are you willing to pay relocation costs of $1000 in order to save yourself the $6,200 you would have lost in order to bring your eviction to its final conclusion.
This is the Art of Eviction.
This strategy is the best way to avoid the tribulations of Brooklyn Housing Court. Don't fight the uphill battle. Pack your tenant's bags, give him a house-warming gift for his new apartment, and “Fuhgeddabouuuutit!”