A recent seminar, sponsored by a landlord group cutely called Community Housing Improvement Program, brought together Manhattan moguls and mom-and-pops who may own a building or two in the outer-outer-boroughs to get a primer on putting their problem tenants out on the street. After paying $50 and making small talk over muffins and coffee one morning in the chandeliered conference room of the New York County Lawyers’ Association on Vesey Street, the sold-out crowd of 225 settled in to listen to the lawyers.
First up was nuisance-law expert Niles Welikson, who warned that these kinds of cases take a good deal of tenacity to win. He cited a litany of jaw-droppers, including a case in which an 86-year-old tenant charged his neighbors with a deer head, scampered through the halls with a bow and arrow, and still won his eviction case because his behavior was not sufficiently bizarre. (Audience members shook their heads and tut-tutted.) Next, chip chairman Andrew Hoffman, a building owner (“It just sounds nicer”) himself, introduced the talk on non-primary-residence cases with a heartbreaker of his own: a couple who retired to Florida but managed to retain the 45-year lease to their rent-controlled Upper West Side apartment so their grown kids can visit their childhood home on occasion. Next came a primer on succession or, as Hoffman explained in his introduction, “what to do when some grandchild appears out of the blue . . . in a penthouse that rents for $1,300 instead of $12,000, clearly hoping that the grandparent leaves feet first soon.” These are difficult, says attorney Sherwin Belkin, who further horrified the audience with a tale of a woman who’d been caught signing her grandmother’s lease renewals years after her death—and still emerged from court with the legal right to the apartment.
Apparently, getting them out is all about the evidence. Attorney William Neville recommended getting friendly with the postman to see whose name is on the mail and subpoenaing ATM records to see where the tenant banks. His biggest thrill? “Showing that [tenants] are lying.” Lawyer Lauren Popper said that it’s sometimes worth hiring a P.I.: Her favorite gumshoe once posed as a patient to catch a psychiatrist using his rent-stabilized apartment as an office while living elsewhere. Ultimately, they were steeled by the possibility of a jackpot—the flip side of the no-account-tenant horror stories. Belkin bragged that he might be able to get $10,000 a month for an apartment he recently wrestled out of rent control. The previous rent? Three hundred dollars. A ripple of excitement went through the audience.