Thursday, September 3, 2009


This came to me yesterday so let me discuss it in a general way since it appears many renters think that if they are late on rent, they will be locked out the next day and all their belongings on the street. Not true. It's a hard economy: you are a renter. Perhaps you lost your job, are being denied unemployment insurance benefits, ex-spouse is not paying support, are late in rent. Advise the landlord immediately. Perhaps you can work out some reduction. If you can't work out a deal: you will not be thrown out right away or locked out. A tenant can be legally evicted only after the landlord has brought a court proceeding and has obtained a judgment of possession. A tenant should never ignore legal papers; an eviction notice can still be sent if a tenant did not appear in court to answer court papers (petition) sent by the landlord. Only a sheriff, marshal or constable can carry out a court-ordered warrant to evict a tenant. Landlords may not take the law into their own hands and evict a tenant by use of force or unlawful means. For example, a landlord cannot use threats of violence, remove a tenant’s possessions, lock the tenant out of the apartment, or willfully discontinue essential services such as water or heat. When a tenant is evicted, the landlord may not retain the tenant’s personal belongings or furniture. The landlord must give the tenant a reasonable amount of time to remove all belongings. RPAPL §749; Real Property Law § 235. A tenant who is evicted from an apartment in a forcible or unlawful manner is entitled to recover triple damages in a legal action against the landlord. So delay the process as best you may even have a valid defense for non-payment. When served with eviction proceeding papers (which will set a court date usually at District Court in Hempstead), appear, wait for the role call, and when you are called, ask for an attorney. They will refer you to Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Nassau/Suffolk Law Services, Inc. which is right near the courtroom. If you qualify, they will provide legal assistance to low income persons with housing problems, including eviction proceedings and other landlord-tenant problems, Section 8 subsidy and public housing issues and foreclosures. The unit is funded in part by the Homelessness Intervention Project of Nassau County DSS. If you want to try and contact them in advance, or ask for further instructions, contact the Volunteer Lawyers Project, Nassau/Suffolk Law Services, Inc., One Helen Keller Way - 5th Floor, Hempstead, New York 11550, 516-292-8100. Naturally, if you can afford an attorney, get one.

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