Building Equity Management
 

Gaining Apartment Access, Another Landlord Headache

key money

I’ve been rather remiss in contributing to this blog for many months, as other time demands have tended to crowd out my ability to find moments to muse here. However, after having had someone today pay me several compliments for past blog postings, I feel motivated to write a quick contribution today.

After finally scoring a victory in court earlier this year and gaining an eviction in the case chronicled in my August 2013 posting on SCRIE fraud, much of my time in Landlord/Tenant court this year has involved holdover cases surrounding the question of “access.” In fact, I’ve got two such cases that have been going on for most of this year that are about to reach a climax. Both in terms of the law and language in most leases,  tenants must allow reasonable access to landlords to make repairs and inspect apartments. Furthermore, though we never enter apartments on our own without prior permission or the presence of an emergency, landlords are entitled by law to keys for every apartment.

key puzzle

When it comes to keys and locks, the landlord owns the main lock on an apartment door and the tenant may put in a second lock which is their property. Though a pain to implement, as some old guard tenants resist compliance, we’ve started to change out all our cylinders on our buildings so they are keyed to a master key, greatly reducing the number of keys we or our supers need to carry around to service the building. We then, if a tenant has put in their own top lock, ask for a copy of their key, which is clearly our right under the law.

key person

I’ll recap one of our cases now, and save the other one for a future posting (it’s a doozy that still has yet to fully play out). This first case involved one of our most difficult tenants who refused to allow us to change our lock cylinder and also refused to give us a copy of the key to a second lock she had installed. Unfortunately, if this happens to you as an owner, your only remedy is a rather convoluted legal process where you first serve a Notice to Cure. That is followed after a certain amount of time with a Notice to Terminate. After that you have to serve a Petition which pulls the process into the court room.

In this particular case, once we got into court, the tenant pulled a typical stalling tactic, asking for an adjournment in order to consult legal council. A month later she showed up again without council,  and got another adjournment claiming she needed more time to get a lawyer. Next time she arrived again without an attorney, quoting to the judge that “so and so” told her she didn’t have to give a key. The judge told her that legal council not with her in court had no bearing and that the law did require her to give us keys. The tenant then signed an agreement to meet us at the apartment so that we could change her bottom lock and get a key for the top lock. When we showed up, she let us change the bottom lock, but claimed to have only one copy of the top lock key and no longer had the required code card to get a copy made for us.

Key

This sent us back to court again, this time for a trial. However, the judge, as they all will do, tried to push us once again towards a settlement. After nearly 2 hours of hashing things out with the tenant, with multiple hand written drafts, (as she, of course started coming up with never before heard repair demands), we appeared in front of the judge to sign the agreement. However, when it came time to sign the document, my illustrious tenant declared, “Okay, I’ll sign it, but only with grave reservations.” At which point the judge said, “Forget it. This is going to trial.” Apparently, expressing such “grave reservations” renders any agreement unenforceable.

So, we come back for trial after several more weeks and lo and behold, the tenant suddenly has a key to give us. We then signed a stipulation affording us access on October 1st and 2nd, some 6 weeks after the court appearance to address two last repairs that we need access for. One is installing a door that never existed when we bought the building–a door that we put in several months ago in response to the tenant’s request, only to have her subsequently take it back out because she didn’t like the quality/style.  The other repair is sealing of a dumbwaiter illegally converted to a pantry, something that HPD made us previously remedy only to subsequently have tenant open it back up. (No, I am not making this up.)

In the meantime, the tenant hasn’t paid us rent since 1/23/14, so now that the “access case” was “settled,” we’ve started a new non-payment procedure for the $10,000 owed. Presumably, if the tenant doesn’t give us “unfettered access” in October, the original case will be restored and, I guess we’ll be sent out to trial yet again? It reminds me of a Dr. Seuss series kids’ book I grew up with called “Stop that Ball,” where the ongoing quip was, “Can this go on all day and night? I could you know, and it just might!”