Owner Didn't Prove Chronic Rent Delinquency
Facts: A 73-year-old Section 8 resident was served with a 10-day eviction notice. The notice claimed that the resident had violated a substantial obligation of her lease agreement by "exhibit[ing] a chronic and systematic propensity for paying [her] rent late each month, allow[ing] arrears to accumulate over periods of months, and hav[ing] compelled the Landlord to commence numerous non-payment proceedings to collect rent" during the past 22 years of her tenancy.
Specifically, the owner claimed that since 1991, it had filed "legal proceedings for non-payment on no less than twelve (12) occasions."
The resident asked the court to dismiss the case. The resident argued that nine of the previous legal proceedings were too old or time-barred by law to be considered by the court. And the three legal proceedings that could be considered were either settled by stipulations containing repair and habitability issues or concluded after only one appearance. Therefore, according to the resident, the owner couldn’t classify her as chronically delinquent and the eviction claim should be dismissed.
Ruling: A New York civil court granted the resident's request and dismissed the proceedings.
Reasoning: To succeed, the owner had to show a long-term, "chronic and systematic" failure to pay rent as it became due. The court stated that the number and frequency of nonpayment proceedings aren’t the only criteria when determining whether a substantial lease obligation has been violated. The breach must also be firmly documented in the record either by the absence of legitimate habitability claims or any dispute as to the amount of rent owed raised during the proceedings.
Here, out of the 12 legal proceedings the owner relied on, nine should be barred from consideration since they were commenced more than six years prior to this proceeding. One of the three remaining cases was settled by an agreement requiring the owner to make some repairs. The court ruled that the resident established that owner failed to allege enough prior proceedings to show that she has substantially violated a material obligation of her 15-year tenancy.
- Mins Court Housing Company, Inc. v. Wright, January 2014