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does laches apply?

NYC Housing Court Practice/Procedures

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does laches apply?

Postby babayaga » Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:17 pm

My landlord has ignored all my attempts to remove violations: court orders, requests over several years. The building manager will make small repairs like caulking cracks in the ceiling while the walls have not been painted in 17 years ...
In response I withheld part of the rent incrementally and then withheld all. Nothing works.
I'm awaiting a response in the form of a nonpayment proceeding at some point.
At each step in withholding rent I informed the landlord that I will pay rent again once all repairs have been made.
My question: Since I made rent paying conditional on repairs made, could I still claim laches as a defense?
Yaga
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby TenantNet » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:46 pm

Laches is a legal issue/doctrine described here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laches_(equity). You can probably get more in-depth discussion on legal web sites.

First understand that the successful assertion of Laches does not get you off the hook; it simply makes it harder for the LL. I do not know if NYC Housing Court has an absolute time limit for Laches, but I've generally understood it to be 3-6 months. If the LL does not bring a non-payment within a reasonable time, a tenant can assert Laches in their answer, and if the court agrees, the Housing Court case could be dismissed. However, the LL can then bring the case in Civil or Supreme Court. In some cases you might not want that as that would give the LL the automatic right to discovery.

Going into Civil or Supreme Court can be more difficult and costly for the LL, but if the litigation goes to trial, it can also be more difficult for the tenant. So while Laches might be a good tactic when going against some LLs, it might not be with more litigious LLs. And of course depending on your lease, tenants can be liable for the LLs legal expenses if the LL is the prevailing party.

So I would be cautious in pursuing this.

I am not aware that Laches is conditional on repairs being made.

OTOH, there is a hard Stature of Limitations of six years. If the LL fails to bring a case in that time period, the tenant should be released of obligations for rent for those periods beyond the 6 year period. Of course some LLs will claim the outstanding debt is for more recent months, so tenants need to be diligent in maintaining copies of all rent payments, all forms of mailing (Certificate of Mailing is only $1.40) and earmark all checks of money orders to a specific month and year.

Of course maintain many photos of the areas where repairs are needed. You can certainly raise Warranty of Habitability defenses.
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby babayaga » Thu Jun 14, 2018 10:47 pm

Thanks so much! I went to google scholar. Learned quite a bit about laches, especially the 4th condition re: incurring harm.
I do have another question. I will probably use laches and definitely breaches of the WoH.
Let's assume the judge upholds these defense and directs me to pay rent for the last 3 months and going forward. But, repairs/ violations are still outstanding. In that event, could I expect the judge to grant me a rent abatement until these defects are removed? It would be kind of unfair if I would have to pay full rent.
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby TenantNet » Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:09 pm

You need to assert laches and the WOH in the answer you file in Housing Court. You might have to make a separate motion (AKA as an "application"). Ask the court attorney (who works for the judge) and the Pro Bono attorney's office ... in Manhattan they are on the first floor.

Rent abatements are typically not awarded until after a trial. But you could get the LL to agree to an abatement, in exchange for your paying rent.

The court could order you to pay rent into court, or not. It might be called "Use and Occupancy."
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