The Appellate Courts have been busy this fall rendering significant decisions involving landlord/tenant law.  Two decisions of interest are discussed below.

The first is a decision by the Appellate Term, Second Department[1] involving a landlord who engaged in self-help to regain possession of the commercial demised premises at issue.  The tenant commenced an unlawful entry and detainer summary proceeding under RPAPL §713(10), and apparently the landlord engaged in self-help to regain possession of the demised premises after commencement of the proceeding.

The court recognized a landlord’s right to engage in self-help, provided such is authorized by the parties’ lease.  Here, the landlord engaged in self-help—as authorized by the commercial lease—upon the tenant’s alleged breach of the lease after the notice called for therein.  The Appellate Term dismissed the tenant’s petition, not because the landlord improperly engaged in self-help, but because the tenant’s pleadings failed “to contain any allegations establishing that tenants were not in breach of a condition of the lease, that landlord had not complied with the lease provisions requiring notice, or that reentry by landlord was not accomplished peaceably.”

While achieving an apparent victory, the landlord was, in fact, not so lucky.  The Appellate Term affirmed the denial of the landlord’s request for possession and for use and occupancy.  The court recognized that RPAPL §743 permits the assertion of legal counterclaims on a summary proceeding.  The court emphasized that RPAPL §743 “does not allow a respondent to circumvent the requirements of RPAPL article seven for the maintenance of a summary proceeding to obtain a judgment of possession” (citations omitted).  When the tenants resumed possession, they did so—if landlord’s position was accepted—as squatters, the lease having been terminated, and no 10-day notice was served as is required to obtain a final judgment pursuant to RPAPL §713(4) (citation omitted).  Moreover, the landlord had not pleaded the elements of a Civil Court ejectment action.

Thus, although the tenant had reentered the premises, the court determined that the landlord was, nevertheless, obligated to comply with the notice requirements of the RPAPL prior to initiating a claim for possession.  Indeed, the Court chastised the landlord, holding “while the landlord may now be faced with additional litigation, this was brought about by landlord’s resort to self-help.  The court was available for landlord to seek an award of possession, but, having chosen to act on its own, landlord cannot now complain of being denied the opportunity to short circuit the procedural requirements of a summary proceeding, by way of counterclaim.”  Therefore, engaging in self-help may not result in expeditiously obtaining possession of the demised premises, and caution should be used before engaging in such.

The second case, from the Appellate Division, First Department,[2] involves a tenant’s claim that the landlord was improperly charging tenant an assessment for a façade restoration.  In affirming the lower court’s ruling that the tenant was not obligated to pay any part of the façade restoration assessment, the court looked to the unambiguous language of the parties’ lease.  The court recognized that the lease specifically provided that after the condominium conversion, “‘and in lieu of CAM [common area maintenance] Costs described in paragraph (B)(1) above,’ ‘Tenant shall pay…[its] Proportionate Share of [the] monthly Common Charges levied against the Commercial Unit; and other special or regular assessments against the Commercial Unit.’”  The court went on to recognize that the lease specifically provided that “‘costs for capital improvements, to the extent that same are not in furtherance of reasonable or necessary maintenance of the building,’ ‘shall not be included as CAM Costs.’”  The court rejected the defendant/landlord’s argument that the obligation to pay “other special or regular assessments against the Commercial Unit” required the tenant to pay a proportionate share of the façade assessment.  While the court did not go into detail in explaining its reasoning, the decision serves as a cautionary tale to both landlords and tenants that, whenever possible, the obligation to pay certain costs must be specifically detailed in the parties’ lease.

[1] Martinez v. Ulloa, 2015 WL 5775821(App.Term 2d Dep’t 2015)

[2] Rogan LLC v. YHD Bowery Commercial Unit LLC, 2015 WL 6510726 (1st Dep’t 2015)