The Real Deal New York

Statewide Sandy class action on its last legs

Tenant can file building-specific suit, but most claims are dismissed

December 16, 2013 12:44PM
By Zachary Kussin

From left: Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich, 145 East 16th Street, 155 East 31st Street and 17 Stuyvesant Street

From left: Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich, 145 East 16th Street, 155 East 31st Street and 17 Stuyvesant Street

The prospects for a Hurricane Sandy-related class action seeking rent refunds from landlords across the state are “gravely in doubt,” a state judge ruled.

In a decision Friday, New York State Supreme Court Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich not only dismissed the claims of two out of the three plaintiffs, but also tossed three out of the five defendants from the case, strongly undercutting its viability.

Briana Adler, the last remaining plaintiff, now has 20 days to file a new class action — but she will be limited to representing tenants at her Murray Hill building, rather than those across the state.

Adler, along with two other tenants, Lauren Shoenfeld and Perri Steiner, filed the suit in January, seeking rent reimbursements for time spent without electricity, hot water, functional elevators or heat, as The Real Deal first reported. They argued that under New York Real Property Law, landlords and management companies had an obligation to keep their buildings habitable. The initial defendants — including Solil Management and Sol Goldman Investments, both affiliated with the estate of Sol Goldman, and Ogden Cap Properties — moved to dismiss the class action, claiming the proposed plaintiff and defendant classes were improper.

“We believe that the decision sends a clear message that a class action in the context of a [Real Property Law] claim with respect to Hurricane Sandy is not the proper mechanism to address those claims,” Mara Levin, an attorney with Herrick, Feinstein who represents the defendants, said in a statement to The Real Deal.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Judge Kornreich dismissed the claims against Ogden Cap and the two Goldman entities because they are the managing agents, rather than the landlords, of the buildings, and therefore are not parties to any leases. Representatives for Ogden Cap and the estate of Sol Goldman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

She dismissed Shoenfeld and Steiner’s claims because they were not present in their apartments during Sandy, which hit the city on Oct. 29, 2012.

Shoenfeld, who lives at the Goldman-managed 145 East 16th Street, left before Sandy hit the city, then returned “when conditions were back to normal,” the judge noted. Owner 145 East 16th Street LLC did not return a message seeking comment.

Steiner, who lived at the Tres Realty-owned 17 Stuyvesant Street in the East Village, stayed away until early November. Moreover, following Sandy, her fellow tenants still had working stoves and hot water, and temperatures outside were in the 40s and 50s, the judge noted. Tres did not respond to a message seeking comment.

“They did not suffer any loss by residing in an apartment lacking essential services,” Judge Kornreich ruled, referring to Shoenfeld and Steiner.

Adler lives at Windsor Court, located at 155 East 31st Street, and it’s not yet clear whether she was home during the storm, which would allow her claims to live on. Still, Judge Kornreich noted that she might fare better in housing court.

Though the building lacked electricity, the complex had an emergency generator that powered elevators, lighting in common areas and water pumps. Tenants received meals, water, glow sticks and stations to charge electronic devices. Owner Mastic Associates of New York did not respond to a request for comment.

Real estate attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, who was not involved in this case, told TRD that Kornreich’s decision demonstrates how bringing a Sandy-related class action would be difficult because each affected building had its own issues.

“I just don’t see that happening,” he said.

  • AnneeZ

    After 9/11, one of my clients wisely insisted in every lease he signed that he would not be responsible for rent during any day the apartment was not habitable. Gotta say it came in handy a couple of times and advised clients to add that rider and will continue to do so. That a landlord holds a person responsible for rent when there is no electricity or even water is absurd in my opinion.

  • NY Agent

    Annez I write that into every lease and point out the paragraphs in the standard Blumberg leases that cover it. Also we require tenants to carry apartment insurance which coves such interruptions. Tenants going after landlords to get free or reduced rent due to such events are simply bottom feeding. As ling s the landlord is doing their best to being things back, they have no case.
    Sad that some who simp could not cook their frozen diners for a few days act as if they went through hell, they need to head out to see some who lost everything including family members.

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