Thursday, June 17, 2021

Catching up with the Court Cases: The Decision in the HP Case and Where it Went From There.

 Well, the victory in the Illegal lockout case was very heartening, but it was not the end. It was not even the beginning of the end. It may have been past the end of the beginning, but I don't think it is quite the middle yet.

While the Illegal Lockout case was still being tried, Judge Weisberg released his decision in the HP case (I will post it here when I get it loaded to YouTube). It was brief, and said that because my vacated room is an illegal Single Room Occupancy dwelling, he could not order it to be re-occupied, so it would be futile to order the safety condition (lack of a fire escape or other means of egress) repaired, so the entire case, including the building violations and harassment, was dismissed (without prejudice, so I could seek relief elsewhere, just not in housing court) However, my neighbor's case, which involved the same building violations and harassment complaints, was moved to another part of housing Court for trial under one Judge Capell..

I felt this ruling to be not quite right. How could one person's harassment complaint be worthy of consideration in housing court but another's is  not when both cases involved the same actions of the same building manager in the same building to tenants of that building? Also, there had been no consideration made of the possibility that the illegal room could become part of a larger, legal apartment if combined with other rooms? Would a rent-stabilized tenant have the right to move into that new apartment that contains his old room?

So I filed what is known as a Motion to Reconsider. Unlike an appeal, which goes to a higher court and requires copies of the transcript and every document filed in the original court in quadruplicate, and Motion to Reconsider merely requires an affidavit (Extra exhibits for evidence is a plus).

Before I was ready to file that Motion, though, Judge Capell held her first conference in the matter of my neighbor's case against the management and owners of 182 Graham Avenue.

Because she was actually a co-petitioner of mine in the HP action, the papers that came through setting the date and time of this conference had my name as the petitioner of this case. I thought this meant that only the "repair and return" position of my case was dismissed and the building violations and harassment were still in play after all. But when we logged on and dialed in to the Teams meeting that is what "being in court" means these days, we were informed that no, my entire case WAS dismissed after all. I was, however, allowed to be an observer of the case, "in the audience" if you will.

The defense attorney, Charles Marino, of course, led with a bunch of creative interpretations of the history of the case and the building. He repeatedly said "rent controlled" when the accurate term would have been "rent stabilized. He talked about the difficult position the owners were in due to all the violations and that the tenants had "chopped up" the apartments to make SROs. And then he got to the point where he said that they had to make each floor one apartment to conform to the Certificate of Occupancy and that meant they would have to evict all but one of the tenants from each floor.. That's when I couldn't hold it in anymore and raised my hand.

Judge Capell pointed out that there were two tenants present, myself and my neighbor , and asked what our thought were on the matter of each floor being one apartment. We both stated that we did not object in principle to being co-tenants of one apartment.

Since I had lived in the building for 27 years and Marino had obviously never set foot in the building. Judge Capell allowed me to answer questions and speak in regard to the history and condition of the building. I pointed out that where Marino said "controlled" he should have said "stabilized" (which Judge Capell noted changed things), that there were plenty of empty rooms int he building and that it is possible that all the vacated tenants could be moved into them.

There was a little back-and-forth between myself, Judge Capell, Marino, and my neighbor. Being very conscious of my non-participant status in this trial, I was on ,my best behavior and made sure to raise my hand and only speak when invited to.

In the end, Judge Capell said that the tenants and the owners and management should get together and figure out a way for all the tenants, vacated an d otherwise, to like in a safe, legal building, and once that is done, she would hear and try the harassment complaints. And every month that was not the case, civil penalties would be assessed against the owners.

She also complimented me on being so well behaved and respectful.

So the judge adjourned the case for a month in the hopes that when we returned, we would have a deal.

It didn't quite happen that way.

NEXT: Decision! Reconsideration! Contempt!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

January 6, 2021, Part 1

 Just a reminder: On January 6th of this year, a joint session of Congress was convened to count the certified votes from all 50 states for the office of President of the United States of America.

On the same day, a rally was organized to protest the results of that vote, claiming that the results were false, tainted by voter fraud.

After firey speeches by a congressman in a wheelchair, a guy who tried to claim that there were more votes than voters in one state by listing towns in a different state and that he had hacked into a Dominion voting device that was not connected to the Internet, and Rudolph Giuliani (who said, among other things, "let's have trial by combat!"), president Donald Trump claimed the election was " they've never rigged an election before") urged his supporters to fight. "We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

He said he would be with them as he urged them to march on the Capitol Building and somehow convince the vice president, Mike Pence, to change the results of the election. He was not.

Thousands of people left the spot of the rally and walked, en mass, down the road to the Capitol Building, where there were already groups of people from organizations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers pressing at the barriers, in some cases actually rushing the barriers and pushing past police who, somehow, were not expecting and not prepared for this.

The Capitol Building is huge, with many entrances. at some, for some reason, the police whose job it is to protect the people inside the building let protesters walk in, at others, however, they shut the doors and held them back as long as they could.

As the crowd around the Capitol Building got bigger and bigger, blows were thrown. The metal barricades that will only stop people who are polite enough to not jump over them or move them aside were jumped over and moved aside. Police retreated in stages. When the crowds got too big at one point, they retreated to others.

Some among the crowd tried to discourage destruction of property, smashing of windows, etc. But some actively reveled in the destruction of property and smashing of windows. Soon crowds were streaming through windows and doors that had been broken through.

All this time, certain Republicans were contesting the counting of votes. A call was made for a commission, liek the one in 1878, to investigate the election, voter fraud, etc, supposedly to find out who really won the election, as if 50 states' certificated results, three score court cases with four score judges, could possibly be wrong.

And then they stopped.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Reading the decision of the New Illegal Lockout Case

 Here is the decision by the Honorable Judge Jack Stoller in my second Illegal Lockout case (the one about the front door of 182 Graham Avenue,. Brooklyn, NY)

Friday, May 7, 2021

Zorikh's New Illegal Lockout Trial, Day 4: The Grand Finale!

 This particular trial day turned in to a bit of a dumpster fire, as things unexpected and unprepared-for threw me off my game, but there was a strong finish! Let me tell you about it...

Developments over the previous weeks inspired me to try a bold move: first I would offer a settlement. If the Defendants refused (as I expected they would) I would hit up the judge for a summary judgement in my favor. 

So before the regular proceedings from last week could resume, I made my offer: In light of the decision rendered by Judge Weisberg in the HP case, and the resultant case in Judge Capell's court, and in the interest of not having two court proceedings at the same time, give me a key to the front door of the building and the door to my room and we start working together to meet Judge Capell's demand that all the tenants get back into a safe, legal 182 Graham Ave.

Charles Marino, defense attorney for Port Rich Realty, answered with a well-practiced litany of fabrications, obfuscations, misdirections, and accusations until the Honorable Judge Jack Stoller stopped him right there and said, "I take it, then that you are not accepting the offer?"

I had wanted to answer the statements by Marino, but Judge Stoller stated that things said in such an instance were not admissible. This came into play later.

But as Judge Stoller began to resume the proceedings, I tried to make my motion for a summary decision, based on the fact that Al Hatem, Port Rich Realty's "non-litigation attorney" and former property manager, had last week revealed that there was no one at Port Rich whose job it was to realize the parts of the building that were supposed to be under the Vacate Order. I believed that the duty to caretake those particular parts of the building should then go to the people who were most familiar with those parts of the building and actually lived there.

However, Judge Stoller then informed me that petitioners can't make motions for summary judgments.

So we picked up where we had left off last week, me questioning Mr. Hatem.

At that point I was already a little off my game. Also, it having been a busy week end weekend preceding, I was not as prepared as I could have been. But I did get to do one thing I had ben planning for: Introduce evidence of tenants registered and rents paid.

Mr. Hatem's position was that he could not remember ever collecting more than one rent check for each floor per month. This is obvious BS, because during the nine years (1997 - 2006) that he was property manager, the building was an SRO, and he had been collecting  up to fifteen different checks at any one time.

Since Marino had asked Hatem about the $1 rent that I was to pay due to DHCR's determination that I was eligible for reduced rent, I asked Hatem what rent he would have charged for the floor, even a ballpark figure, over or under $1500 (I knew that back when there was a Master Tenant on the floor, he paid $1500 a month). Hatem said he could not remember and Marino objected (of course). Judge Stoller overruled the objection, but Hatem still "couldn't recall," so I asked if he might remember if I showed him some figures.

I submitted into evident the DHCR rent registrations that had been made since Por  Rich Realty acquired the building in 1996. There were only two. One was for $380 a month, the other for $395.

Of course Hatem could not recall this, but had to admit that was a pretty low figure for an entire flor. When pressed as to whether there were other tenants on the floor that had not been registered, he said that those tenants (who were listed on different years) were the only tenants on the floor at that time. This is despite the fact that I had been a tenant also at that time.

I asked Hatem what Port Rich Realty's plans were for the building, He gave a vague answer about making the building legal according to city orcers. I tried to ask him if they intended to get the vacated tenants back in, but questions in that direction were objected to as "speculation," which was sustained several times.

So, having lost momentum, I closed my questions, and awaited Priscila Gerena, the landlord's daughter who had presented herself as the nea Building Manager, to take the stand, as she had called in to this "virtual" trial and was waiting in the "virtual " witness' waiting room. But Marino threw me off by saying he had no further witnesses.

I was asked if I had any further witnesses. Now, during the week I had gotten in touch with a few former tenants of the building and asked if they could be witnesses to prove that multiple people had lived and paid rent on the same floor at the same time. However, I truly expected the trial to go on for at least one more week, and none of these witnesses were really ready.

One of them had called in, but I had not prepped him well enough and it was a big challenge just to get him to describe where his room was in the building. Another did not realize that she might need to have proof of rent payments, and so was live on camera cursing me for asking her to find them at short notice as she was digging through her files. 

Eventually Judge Stoller asked how proving that the building had been run as an SRO proved that a rent-stabilized tenant had the right to access the common areas of the third floor. The truth is that I wanted to establish that Hatem's testimony was unreliable, and that any testimony they might make should be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism.

But in the end I decided that the judge was sharp enough to see what I was getting at and, more importantly, through Hatems selective memory, to realize that Pot Rich Realty had been running an SRO all along.

So with no more witnesses to be called by either side, it was time for any last evidence to be presented.

At this point Marino called out that Judge Stoller had taken judicial notice of Judge Weisberg's decision in the HP case when I had mentioned it in my settlement offer. Judge Stoller corrected him; he had not taken judicial notice. So Marino had to present the decision as evidence.

I objected, as much to echo what Marino had done as all trial long as anything else. My stated reasons were described by Judge Stoller as more arguments against what was in the order than reasons for objecting, but he heard them, and he accepted the evidence.

Then Marino gave his closing argument. In it he said...

  • I was seeking not just the key to the front door, but also to be restored to possession of the Vacated room.
  • That my use of the kitchen and bathroom would violate the Certificate of Occupancy, which said that the Third Floor is one apartment, and that I admitted that I would be violating the C of O.
  • That it was not in dispute that doing so would violate the C. of O.
  • That Judge Weisberg's Order, that the room is an illegal SRO and thus providing means of egress from it would be futile, meant that I could no longer be a tenant of 182 Graham Ave.
  • That the building was unsafe and had been condemned, meaning that I would never be able to return, according to the DHCR Rent Order.
  • That I had access on demand, as was evidenced by the fact that I was in the building at that moment and had been for the entire trial.
  • And finally, that if I wanted access to the property in my room, all I had to do was contact Building management to arrange it.
In my closing statement, I commended Marino on his steadfast loyalty to his clients, and how it was not his fault that he only had the info they gave him and had never actually been to the building. Then I countered each of his arguments:

  • It was stated that this about the front door key. Anything else was a "since you mentioned it..." thing.
  • I never said that I would be violating the C of O, and in fact, I would not be. (to this, Mario Objected, and I talked over his objection with the same force and duration as he stated his, because it had already been established that you cannot object to a closing statement. Also: he said that I was lying. I made sure to point out that if he was going to use that L word about me, I now felt no compunction against using it against him and his client).
  • Judge Weisberg's decision did not take into account the possibility that the room may become part of a legal apartment, allowing me to return to it. Also, as a Rent Stabilized tenant, I still had access to the kitchen and bathroom until legally evicted.
  • The building was not unsafe, had not been condemned, and I took this opportunity to interpret the "$1-a-month" rent order (which I was told I could not do during the trial, although Marino had been doing it all along) as what it really is: a way to secure the room for my eventual return. The idea that someone would pay a dollar a month to secure a room that was "condemned" and never be returned to was absurd!
  • I did not have "access on demand," I had access at the will, whim, and ability of my neighbor.
  • And finally, I saw no reason to expect that, considering the hostility I had been met with so far, that accessing my room through Port Rich Realty would be any less cumbersome and unpredictable than it had been under Antonio Hernan Cook. West Broadway Glass v. Namaskaar all over again.
When all that was done, I broke out of the mere refutation of the defense's canards to talk about the true matter of the case.

As Judge Stoller had returned to several times during the proceeding, I am a rent-stabilized tenant of 182 Graham Ave, Brooklyn. As such, I have certain rights. It doesn't matter whether I am smart enough, creative enough, hard-working enough, or lucky enough to find a place to sleep without rain falling on my head, a right is a right, and I have the right to access the non-vacated parts of this building.

This case is not just about me. If I give up, then what about people who are less fortunate than me? I will be setting a precedent that unscrupulous landlords can get away with doing this sort of thing. But if I keep on fighting, then people watching me can ask "if he is willing to fight so hard for what is right, how hard am I willing to fight?"

It started getting emotional for me at this point, and I could see Judge Stoller's brow crunch up as he stared intently at his screen in the Teams Meeting (maybe he was just concentrating because of the bad echo that had been going on through the whole day). It wasn't quite waterworks, but there was definitely a bit of smoke in my eyes as I mentioned the emotional journey I had been on through all this, and how such a simple mater was being turned into an epic struggle for every little thing. I made reference to m,y room and said that I was not going to go into the whole rigmarole of the definition of "room" because we all know what a room is.

Finally, it came down to on, last thing....

"Just...give me...the key."

Then I said that's it, I'm done, I rested my case, and the judge said that he would have a decision in one or two weeks.

NEXT: The Decision!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Zorikkh's New Housing Court Challenge! Day 1

Since The Honorable Judge Weisberg dismissed my entire petition, I am going to be filing an intent to appeal and Motion to Reconsider, but that is tomorrows concern. What happened, though, is that I received a summons for a new case in another part of Housing Court.

This summons also named my co-petitioner in my HP case, so I assumed that it was the case filed by us jointly was being carried over into this court. However, upon the opening of the pre-0trial conference, the judge informed me that my entire case had been dismissed, and thus I was not a party to this new case. I was, however, allowed to sit as audience to the "Teams" meeting. I remained on camera, but my microphone was muted.

Unfortunately, the Petitioner's camera was not working, so she was just a voice, not a face, and unable to give visual cues. Nevertheless, she persevered.

This being just a conference, the Judge asked for some clarification of the issues and the situation. Charles Marino, defense attorney of the owner and managers of 182 Graham Ave, began to describe his side's view of the situation, saying that there was a vacate order due to lack of access to egress and use in conflict with the Certificate of Occupancy (Single Room Occupancy rather than one apartment per floor).

The Petitioner corrected Marino on that point, explaining that it was only the safety violation that was the cause of vacating and that only certain rooms were vacated.

As the conference continued, Marino kept on pushing issues without having full knowledge of the building or its actual situation. He did not know, for instance, that there were other people living on the third floor. When he brought up the issue that the whole floor had to go back to one apartment, then, he said that would require the eviction of the other tenants. Since I am one of those other tenants, I felt I had to say something, tentatively thought of raising my hand, but the Judge, who could see me on camera, asked me if I had anything to say about that.

This was the first time I got to say in a court, to a judge, that we are not opposed to making the floor one apartment with one or two co-signers on each lease. This changed the complexion of the conference immediately.

Marino claimed that the extant fire escape was blocked, and I was able to point out that the fire escape in question was right behind me, to the left as it appeared on the webcam. Marino tried to break down the number of units and their occupancy status, and I was able to give an accurate accounting, including the fact that there was no one living on the fourth floor at all at the moment.

Through and at the end of the rest of the conference, the judge instructed Marino to have "several" discussions with his clients, that all interested parties should be brought together, and that getting everyone back into a safe, legal building should be done first, and for every month until then, civil penalties could be assessed on the owners (Port Rich Realty). After that, issues of harassment would definitely be addressed

So now we, the petitioners are gathering to determine what shape we want the future to bring, in the hope that the owners will negotiate in good faith. But I wonder how this will change the face of my Illegal Lockout case?

Decision in the HP case!

Coming soon

Zorikh's New Illegal Lockout Trial, Day 3: The Plot Thickens 2/12/2021

Welcome back! In this week's edition of the trial, we picked up with Mr. Marino, the attorney for Port Rich Realty, questioning the witness I had brought. Surprisingly, he brought out the floor plan I had submitted in evidence, the plan that he had initially objected to as evidence. He asked my witness to identify each of the rooms, one by one, on the floor plan, which she did, by their alphanumeric designations and their tenants, vacated or not.

When my turn came to redirect, I decided to take a page out of his book. pulled up the HPD Order to Repair/Vacate Order that had been submitted as evidence, and, one by one, read off the violations, asking her to which room each individual violation referred. As each violation either covered the entire floor or described the room by its geographic location, she was able to identify each of them accurately. 

 Marino objected, one by one, to each question and this entire line of questioning, saying that it was irrelevant. However, having brought up, the week before, the issue of which room was which and what part of the building was under the vacate order, the judge said "you opened the door," and allowed the questioning.

Then it was Marino's turn to ask me questions. He asked me if I had received any mail at the location. It just so happened that I still had in my bag the mail that I had picked up the previous week; some junk mail, a bank statement, and some stuff regarding my retirement account. He asked the frequency of my visits and whether I was using the kitchen and bathroom for kitchen and bathroom purposes. Her had asked similar questions of my witness, and our stories matched up.

I summed up my case by stating the whole crux of my argument, that as had already been confirmed, I am a rent-stabilized tenant and have the right to access those parts of the building as my tenancy entitles that are not under any vacate orders, to wit: the kitchen, bathroom, and mailbox. 

 After I summed up my case, it was Marino's turn to present his. He built his case around the word "condemned" in the Rent Order from the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, claiming that the entire building has been condemned. 

His opening was brief, and he called Al Hatem, Port Rich Realty's "Non-litigation attorney." This was interesting because, unlike my witness, he had been present for the entire trial. normally witnesses are not allowed to attend a trial  Mr. Hatem revealed that he had been with Port Rich since its founding in 1997 and was property manager of 182 Graham Ave from 1997 - 2006. He claimed that the building had one apartment per floor when he was property manager. He was also asked if one dollar was within the range of market rents in the area.

His statement about the apartments was actually in direct conflict wit the testimony I had given in my opening statement. I had described in detail how the third floor had been under a "master tenant" until one day in which Mr. Hatem said "no more master tenants." When it came to be my turn to question him, I questioned him very specifically about the people involved and events leading up to that moment, and he claimed that he could not recall any of them.

Furthermore, though he could recall collecting rent checks, he could not recall ever collecting rent checks for more than one party per floor in the nine years he was property manager. This flew in the face of my witnesses testimony, as she and I were tenants at the same time, during his time as property manager, and each rented our rooms individually sending checks to him. He claimed he did not recall ever receiving checks from both of us on the same month.

Then I got to asking him about the Order to Repair/Vacate Order from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He had claimed that all the rooms were under the vacate order. There was lack of agreement and specificity over the definition of "apartment" and "room." It got so I had to say "the space enclosed by walls and only accessible by one door with (a specific number) on it" and asking if that room was subject to a particular violation. 

He claimed to be uncertain as to whether specifically named rooms were under specific violations and vacate orders or not. After further questioning, it came down to asking him if there was anyone among Port Rich Realty who was capable of realizing what part of the building was affected by which violation and what order in the document issued by HPD.

At that point we ran out of time and were adjourned until April 20th, 9:30 AM.

But then on Thursday... (please go to the next post to find out what happened!)