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Itkowitz PLLC Gets Hot Water Restored to Couple with Baby in Last Apartment in Building Being Sold as Part of Estate

October 17, 2016 

Here’s a story for you.  My clients were a young professional couple with an eleven-month-old baby in a $3,000/month apartment in a small building in a nice neighborhood in Queens[1].  They were the last tenants left in the building.  The elderly owners had recently died and a daughter in another state was taking over. 

One of the brokerage houses (the name you would recognize, but I am going to give them a break here) told the daughter that the building would sell much faster if it was empty.  Fancy that advice?  So, the daughter asked the couple to leave.  Now this couple was not adverse to moving, they just needed some time.  I guess the daughter did not like waiting so she had her contractors turn off the hot water.

The couple was referred to me and I immediately sent the landlord a letter.  I included in the letter the cutest picture ever – a picture of the baby being bathed in a bucket with water heated in the microwave, because there was no hot water in the apartment.  The picture was included for the purpose of shaming the landlord.  The baby, however, was having a grand old time playing in the bucket, safe with her mother’s hands around her midsection.  If only we could all stay that innocent and not have to grow up and realize that the reason we are bathing in a bucket of microwave-heated water is that the landlord sabotaged the gas lines. 

The problem here was that the absentee landlord was…ok…I can’t sugar coat this one -- just stupid, and really couldn’t get the gas back on.  Thankfully this was August and not the winter.  I did an HP action. 

Unfortunately, many New Yorkers are suffering similar deprivations of services and the HP case lingered, about which I was not happy.  Of course, the landlord’s counsel was not happy about it either, because, remember, their ultimate goal was to sell this building, and now here I am throwing a wrench into the works.  Now, if the landlord started the end-of-lease holdover that she was entitled to start, I was surely going to scream, “retaliatory eviction”.  That is a presumption we would be entitled to and the landlord would have to overcome it.  Could they?  I wouldn’t want to bet against me on that one. 

So most of my loyal readers can guess the word that is going to come out of my mouth next – “buyout”.  The funny thing here, however, was that this couple did not want a buyout.  They were willing to leave; they just didn’t feel it was fair to ask for a big chunk of cash to go.  They were not unsophisticated people, and they understood the concept of a buyout, they simply didn’t want it.  And they were paying my legal fees, which aren’t cheap!  I couldn’t convince them to let me do my thing and get them a much deserved windfall.  Yet, indeed, I can respect tenants who are not comfortable playing the buyout game.  This couple was smart and well informed and simply made a different choice than many others would have. 

I suggested that we ask for a modest buyout that would cover my fees in full, provide them with an abatement for the lack of essential services, pay for their transition – moving truck, new security deposit, and first month’s rent, etc., and maybe a little something extra for the baby’s college fund.  They agreed and I got it for them. 

What’s the Lesson?  I am including a new feature in all of my “Our Stories” Blog Posts called “What’s the Lesson?”  What are stories good for if they don’t teach us something? 

The lesson here is that landlords should never turn off the hot water on a tenant, obviously.  Besides being evil, crap like that only slows the landlord’s agenda down, in this case it delayed the sale.  But the more subtle lesson is that not every tenant wants the same thing.  I often say that tenants are like snowflakes – no two are alike.  These people wanted what they wanted, and after I was satisfied that I had apprised them fully of all their options, I got them the exact compensation that they desired.  Frankly, tenants that I have gotten ten times as much money for were ten times less thankful to me than this couple!  You would think they had hit the lottery.  In some senses, they approached life like their baby being bathed in the bucket – they looked at the bright side of everything and rolled with the punches.  Maybe that’s the lesson? 

Respectfully submitted,

[1] I change some of the details to protect the innocent.  

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