Landlords claim New York appeals court favors tenants

Property owners say jurists are addressing policy issues rather than following existing law

New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman
New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman

Landlords are crying foul after a string of decisions by the New York Court of Appeals under Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that they say have reinterpreted state law in favor of tenants.

Since Lippman took his post in 2009, the landlords contend, the state’s Highest Court has moved from closely interpreting written landlord-tenant law to examining policy broadly and aiming to protect vulnerable tenants, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“You have a Court of Appeals very fond of taking landlord-tenant cases and ruling in favor of tenants even if that means overturning past precedents and logical thinking,” Adam Leitman Bailey, a lawyer who represents both landlords and tenants, told the newspaper.

Appeals court decisions that property owners point to include a 4-2 decision last month in Which The Court ruled that the word “penalty” in rent-stabilization law didn’t mean penalty in reference to repayment of rent overcharges. The decision allowed tenant lawyers to file class-action lawsuits to recover back rents.

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In another controversial case last month involving 80-year-old widow Mary Santiago, the court ruled that the term “local public assistance benefit” covered a tenant’s right to below-market rents from a private landlord. The decision exempted rent-stabilized leases from bankruptcy-court proceedings.

“I can say quite strongly for myself and other members of the court that we don’t look at anything other than each case, one at a time,” Lippman told the newspaper. [WSJ] — Tess Hofmann