The decision brought a certain irony to the case: The family will leverage state tenant protections to pursue claims that they are not tenants at all.
Judge Jack Stoller paused the eviction and restored possession to the family, headed by 98-year-old Ida Robinson, while the court investigates whether the matriarch’s grandaughter filed for emergency rental assistance, Law 360 reported. That would provide eviction protection while the application is reviewed and for up to a year if it’s approved.
The Robinsons say Ida is the rightful owner of 964 Park Place, so the claim of tenancy could complicate that claim, which they intend to pursue in state Supreme Court.
The order came Monday after a housing court judge decided to revisit the early-February eviction warrant issued against the family. Sherease Torain, Robinson’s granddaughter, had contested the eviction and filed an illegal lockout proceeding against the landlord, Menachem Gurevitch, mid-month.
Before the court date last week, Torain submitted an affidavit claiming she had applied for emergency rental assistance and Gurevitch had failed to notify the court of her application, Law360 reported.
Torain’s initial application was denied; however, she contends that she submitted an appeal, which Gurevitch would have been required to share with the court. Gurevitch argues that the Robinsons have not “proven that an appeal is pending,” according to court documents.
“The ERAP portal confirmed that Sherease Torain did not file an appeal of the denial prior to the eviction,” a spokesperson for the landlord said, referring to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
The owner backed up his claim with a photo of the ERAP portal showing no pending application or appeal at 964 Park Place.
While that case is decided, Adam Birnbaum, an attorney for the Robinsons, told Law360 he will seek a temporary restraining order to block any eviction while he pursues claims that Ida Robinson was defrauded in a deed theft scheme.
The case stems from a 2015 buy-back agreement between Ida Robinson and a limited liability company, court documents show.
The seemingly one-sided deal shows Robinson agreed to sell her home for $800,000 and pay the LLC $5,500 a month in rent. It also said the family could repurchase the home after two years for $1.4 million. If they fell behind on rent, the owner would have the right to evict them, the agreement stipulated.
Things immediately got messy. The agreement had guaranteed Robinson the first right to purchase the home. But within days, the property was re-sold to another LLC which then transferred ownership to Gurevitch.
After Robinson stopped paying rent six months into her alleged tenancy, Gurevitch filed an eviction case against her. And months later, Robinson threw her own suit into the ring, claiming she had been tricked into signing over the deed.
In a recent filing by Birnbaum, Robinson attests she never authorized anyone to sell her home and did not execute the documents to transfer the title. Rather, she thought she was refinancing a $455,000 mortgage she had obtained from a subprime lender in early 2007.
Robinson’s case against Gurevitch was dismissed in 2017, which allowed the eviction suit against her to proceed.
However, the documents Birnbaum submitted to the court offer fresh support for Robinson’s claim of deed theft. The attorney outlines that landlords working to dupe homeowners into transferring a deed often create an LLC specifically for the transaction — a factor in the Robinson case — and characterize the transfer documents as a refinancing.
The LLC then transfers the deed to a second or third owner to complicate the paper trail, as happened with Robinson. Birnbaum said the nonagenarian still has a legal path to reclaim ownership of 964 Park Place.
Gurevitch has argued that the family can’t pursue new claims because of res judicata, a legal principle barring parties from litigating an issue as a result of a previous judgment on the same matter, Law360 reported.
A spokesperson for the landlord told Law360 that the Monday decision is an “egregious misuse of measures created during the pandemic to help struggling tenants.”
Birnbaum said he doesn’t believe that the recent developments in housing court will hurt Ida Robinson’s case in the Supreme Court.