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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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Re: does laches apply?

Postby babayaga » Sat Jun 23, 2018 7:30 pm

There is a new management component in our building designed to address the needs of tenants. That probably means we will get repairs done, timely services etc. I stopped paying rent maybe 1 and 1/2 years ago but the violations date back to 2015. The landlord has made no attempt to collect. My question: Assuming all necessary repairs have been completed, all violations removed, do I start paying rent at that point and let them do a non-pay proceeding for the time period for which they did not collect rent only or continue not paying until they start collecting, i.e. initiate a non-pay proceedings. Thank You.
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby TenantNet » Sat Jun 23, 2018 9:34 pm

Management companies work for the LL, not the tenants. You can hope, but understand they are not your friends.

For withheld rent, make absolutely sure you have it kept in escrow. LLs love to allow tenants to remain complacent, then come after them expecting they will not be able to come up with the back rents.

I can't tell you if and when to start paying rent. There is no one answer. Just make sure you ave enough to cover the months withheld.
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby babayaga » Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:50 pm

Thank you! The LL has arranged to have everyone's apt. inspected for violations present and to prevent any from appearing. This is being done for our welfare. After years of neglect, including not appearing in court three times for my HP action, having to pay a fine to me and the housing dept., they are suddenly concerned about our well-being. I'm somewhat creeped out. Have no explanation for this turnaround.
I do have a couple of questions:
1. Is there a 'list' somewhere with common defenses for housing court? I am only aware of laches and the breaches of habitability and covenant of quiet enjoyment. There must be more. I read about a case (long ago) where someone had 8 defenses in a nonpay proceeding!
2. Once a LL has been judged to be in 'contempt of court' how long is that 'active'? I saw my HP action to its end. There is no more to be done, at least in housing court. Still no corrections, fine not paid to me. Is the LL still considered to be in contempt after a case has been closed? Can contempt of court itself be a defense?
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby TenantNet » Wed Jun 27, 2018 4:00 pm

Being done for your welfare? I seriously hope you don't buy into that.

I don't know of a list I can point to, but you see common defenses listed in various places. The answer form that you fill out in Housing Court (actually the clerk fills it out for you) has most of the common defenses on the form.

You can go here: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/hous ... #answering

And scroll to the section on answering. Look for "Answer in Writing and Verifications" or here: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civi ... vlt91b.pdf

You can have as many defenses and counterclaims as you can conjure up ... but understand the judge is equally free to ignore all those. And he/she might get pissed off if there are too many or they are ridiculous.

I don't know the answer to your second question. But if the HP court has determined a fine is owed to you, I don't know why you can't include that as a counterclaim.
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby babayaga » Wed Jun 27, 2018 5:19 pm

Many thanks!! Just got a new communication. The 'housing inspector' about to visit is from a real estate consulting firm that specializes in violation removal. Red flags are waving at me furiously. What do I have to gain/lose from the ll using a such a firm? I wonder if I should cancel that inspection. My instincts are leading me in that direction.
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Re: does laches apply?

Postby TenantNet » Wed Jun 27, 2018 5:59 pm

You are right to be apprehensive. Do you have the name of the firm or the individual? You could give us the details via Private Mail (use the PM button to the left of each post)
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