NYC Eviction Process Nightmare – One Client’s Horrific Experience

In my decade-long career as a professional real estate broker in NYC, specializing in residential sales and rentals, I’ve seen my fair share of tough situations. But none quite as convoluted and draining as the eviction process nightmare my client Sameer endured with a tenant who seemed to have mastered the art of manipulation and delay.

Sameer, a long-time owner of a co-op apartment in Midtown East, decided to rent out his property since the sale market was weak (as it has been for years in NYC).

The tenant, a commercial real estate broker well-versed in tenant laws (a real estate professional who ironically was a professional tenant), seemed like a responsible choice at first glance. Little did Sameer know, this decision would soon turn into a protracted nightmare.

The tenant’s lease finally did end in December, which is why we heard this story because Sameer now can’t wait to sell the property.* Tenant did move out, but without paying the last couple of months’ rent.

*For privacy, we are not providing the name of our partner broker nor the client’s name. Please note that the client actually ended up going with another listing broker, so we are not actually listing this seller’s property for sale.

Even though Sameer got his property back, he was left grappling with lawyer fees and lasting emotional trauma, not to mention a significant financial net loss after all the fees and costs.

A shocking, true story of a NYC co-op eviction gone wrong. One client's nightmare journey through legal battles and tenant turmoil!

First came the nitpicking complaints right after they moved in: the paint was not the right shade of cream that they had agreed upon, so Sameer paid $1,000 for a painter to come and repaint the apartment. Yet the tenant still complained that the shade was not light-colored enough, finally prompting Sameer to repaint the apartment himself.

Mind you that this was after the tenant had already moved in, and had signed a lease agreeing to the apartment’s condition as is. Despite not paying rent for December and January, the tenant had the audacity to demand a habitable living environment, which, according to him, Sameer’s apartment failed to provide due to the color of the paint not being exactly what he claimed they had agreed to.

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As if the situation wasn’t stressful enough, the tenant then complained about baseboards and doors not being painted, leading Sameer to agree to split the cost of $800 for a painter to rectify these so-called issues. The tenant paid rent from January to May, then suddenly stopped and went radio silent. By the end of May, Sameer received photos of a roach, with the tenant claiming the apartment was infested with rats and roaches and therefore not habitable.

Despite these claims, Sameer knew the building was regularly serviced by exterminators and there was no infestation.

Nevertheless, to appease the tenant, he arranged for an exterminator to spray the apartment once a month, costing $150 each visit. Yet, the exterminator found nothing.

The tenant’s tactics escalated; he sent photos of a single roach every first of the month from July to October. Whenever Sameer issued a 14-day demand letter for rent payment, the tenant would pay just one month’s rent, effectively restarting the eviction process. He even demanded a rent reduction for “pain and suffering.”

Negotiations led to a reduced rent from $4,500 to $4,000, which the tenant paid for a few more months. Yet, the cycle of non-payment and complaints resumed, this time with allegations of unbearable noise from Local Law 11 construction in the garage which the tenant claimed made his family’s life unbearable. The tenant said his wife and baby had to move in with in-laws because their home had become uninhabitable due to the construction noise. Eventually, Sameer had to reduce the rent further to $3,750.

Despite Sameer’s efforts to mediate and address the tenant’s grievances, the tenant stopped paying rent again in October and didn’t pay any building fees (i.e to the super) that he was responsible for.

At his point, the tenant was coming up for a renewal (Sameer had unfortunately given the tenant the free option to renew for a 2nd year). Sameer felt that his only hope was for the building to reject the renewal so he could get out of this situation. So Sameer wrote to the board and threatened to not pay the co-op building maintenance charges.

However, the co-op board was smart and knew full well of the situation, and approved the renewal, thus depriving Sameer of any leverage, and calling his bluff on not paying co-op maintenance fees. After all, if Sameer didn’t pay his maintenance fees, the board could always do a co-op foreclosure of his unit.

The apartment, although slightly dated, was in good condition and matched the photos shown to the tenant. Sameer had touched up the apartment prior to move-in. The appliances sure were old, but were working.

Funnily enough, rent payments were made via Zelle from an LLC, which was later investigated for a potential PPP loan scam involving the tenant’s father-in-law as the guarantor.

Reflecting on this experience, several red flags were missed during the tenant screening process: the guarantor’s income was suspiciously low, attributed to COVID-19; the tenant had no recent landlord reference, instead opting for a vague reference from two years prior.

This was probably the most important lesson to take away from this experience. Always, always ask for at least 2 prior landlord references. The tenant claimed that he couldn’t provide a landlord reference for the past 2 years because he was living with in-laws. And the “landlord” reference from more than 2 years ago honestly could have just been his buddy. To be honest, Sameer thinks this professional tenant will try to pull the same story with the next unsuspecting landlord.

This harrowing experience underscores the importance of thorough vetting and the unpredictability of the NYC eviction process. It’s a stark reminder of the complexities and potential pitfalls of property management, even for seasoned professionals like myself. Sameer’s ordeal is a cautionary tale for all NYC landlords, highlighting the need for vigilance, thorough background checks, and preparedness for the unexpected in the ever-challenging world of real estate.

The financial toll on Sameer

The financial toll on Sameer throughout this eviction saga was not only substantial but also deeply distressing. Initially, legal expenses mounted quickly, with $2,000 paid just for a lawyer to serve notices and an additional $500 for a process server.

The unforeseen demands for repainting, driven by the tenant’s complaints about the shade, led Sameer to shell out over $1,000 in painting costs, not to mention the $800 split for further touch-ups requested by the tenant. Beyond these direct costs, Sameer had already paid significant building fees, including a co-op sublet fee equivalent to three months’ rent, a hefty price for the privilege of renting out his property.

The recurring exterminator fees, amounting to $150 for each unnecessary visit, further bled Sameer’s finances, especially as the exterminator consistently found no evidence of infestation. To cap it off, the rent reductions—from $4,500 to $4,000 and eventually to $3,750—resulted in a significant loss of income over time.

This financial strain, compounded by the stress of the ongoing legal and personal battles, painted a grim picture of the hidden costs landlords can face in seemingly straightforward rental arrangements.

Why Sameer couldn’t simply sue or evict the tenant

Sameer’s lawyer provided crucial advice during this ordeal, recommending that they let the lease expire rather than pursuing legal action against the tenant. The rationale was straightforward yet sobering: suing the tenant would likely trigger a holdover situation, wherein the tenant could legally remain in the apartment for up to six months without paying rent at all.

This tactic, known as “playing the system,” is a common defensive strategy employed by tenants well-versed in tenant laws to prolong their stay, further exacerbating the financial and emotional strain on the landlord. By choosing not to sue, Sameer was attempting to mitigate his losses, a strategy that speaks volumes about the complexities and challenges landlords face in navigating NYC’s tenant-friendly legal landscape.

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