Landlord-tenant disputes are among the most common types of real estate matters handled by New York courts. While a lease may set out the rights and responsibilities of the parties to a particular rental arrangement, there are still general principles of law that apply to all landlord-tenant relationships. Indeed, state and local laws control how and when a landlord may evict a tenant.
Tenant’s “Hoarding” Outweighs Alleged Retaliation Over Broken Stove
Among other things, New York Real Property Law prohibits “retaliatory evictions” by landlords. This means, for example, that if a residential tenant files a “good faith complaint” with respect to “the landlord’s alleged violation of any health or safety law, regulation, code, or ordinance,” the landlord may not turn around and initiate eviction proceedings in retaliation. However, a landlord may still attempt to evict the tenant for independent reasons unrelated to the tenant’s complaint.
Here is a recent illustration of how this law is applied by the courts. This case involves a landlord-tenant dispute in upstate New York. A woman rented an apartment in the City of Glens Falls. She was on a month-to-month tenancy. This past January, the landlord initiated eviction proceedings.
Approximately one month earlier, the tenant had filed a complaint with the City of Glens Falls Code Enforcement Office. The tenant said her gas stove was not working and posed a safety risk. A building inspector and the city’s fire chief inspected the stove and agreed it was not working.
The inspector also noted the “cluttered” and overall unsanitary condition of the tenant’s apartment. The landlord had received several complaints from other residents of the building that the tenant was a “hoarder” and that the excess of garbage in the unit was “creating terrible odors” and had led to a cockroach infestation. For his part, the building inspector warned the tenant to clean up her unit or face a formal citation for violating city code.
The landlord subsequently moved to evict the tenant, citing continuing complaints from the other residents. The tenant claimed she was the victim of an illegal retaliatory eviction—i.e., she was being punished for reporting the inoperable stove to the building inspector. While a city judge agreed that the tenant had established a “rebuttable presumption” of retaliation, the landlord had “demonstrated that it had an independent and non-retaliatory basis for the decision to evict the tenant.” The repeated complaints from the other tenants, the building inspector’s own observations, and the tenant’s failure to clean her apartment after being warned, all supported the landlord’s decision to evict.