Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I've been Sued!

It all started when I moved out of my apartment in Greenpoint, over a year ago.

I replaced a broken glass window (from when my ex accidently locked me out of the apartment), my mom patiently filled and painted the picture-frame holes on the walls, I hired a housecleaner even after I'd fully cleaned the place -- all to make sure that I'd get my deposit back.

My ex was actively disinterested in pursuing the deposit...fine. His choice. But this left me with the responsibilty and, presumably, the cash. Oh, but how elusive the cash has been!

Did the walk-through with the landlord and he promised to send the full deposit. After 4 months and no sign of it, I sent him a letter threatening legal action. Then he sent me a letter saying that he had painted and refinished the floor and as a result, he didn't owe me anything.

But the part that burned me, was that he suggested that I'd only paid half and that was in touch with my ex about his portion. Which he wasn't. (The other part that burned me was that this landlord had been so cheap, so hostile, and so disrespectful while I lived there...and clearly he believed he could take advantage of me.)

Following The Rules as set out by the Attorney General's Office I following the following steps.

1. Invited Sleezeball Ex-Landlord (heretofore to be referred to as SEL) to mediation at Atty Gen's Office

2. Submitted full documentation of my claim to the Atty Gen and sent SEL a binder full of the documents

3. After AG's office reviewed my case and SEL's response, they referred me to Small Claim's Court, noting that this dispute was a matter for 'judgment.'

4. Filed small claims suit.

5. Showed up for hearing -- no sign of SEL.

6. Made my case before an arbitrator who issues a 'default judgment.'

7. SEL, getting notice of the judgment in the mail, files a motion to dismiss the default judgment.

8. Back to court for the hearing before a judge on vacating the default judgment. Judge buys the SEL's story that he didn't get notice of hearing but does not buy his sorry-ass story that he's having a 'family emergency' tonight and is not ready for a hearing on the merits of my claim. We go to see the arbitrator.

9. Made my case before an arbitrator - SEL offers lame-ass defense.

10. I WIN the case. Get a judgement for my full deposit plus interest!

11. As instructed by the court I try to 'contact judgment debtor' to collect. I call the SEL 2 times and I send the SEL a lovely blue card on which I have written in big letters: TIME TO PAY THE JUDGEMENT.

12. I wait 30 days.

13. I begin trying to collect the judgement. The law entitles me to seize his property. But this is a long and involved process.

14. Step One: call a NYC marshall -- she instructs me that I have to find his assets first, before she can seize them. To find his assets, it's back to small claims court -- for the 3rd time.

15. Oh crap. Bad news. I go back to court and realize that I have messed up. In my initial filing I put the SEL's first name in the last name space and last name in the first name space -- as a result, I have a judgment for someone who does not exist. So, step one: petition the court to change the cases' caption -- that's the little Ellen vs. SEL part which looks like Ellen vs. LES part right now, but I'm trying to fix that-- acknowledging that this is just a simple clerical mistake.

16. File motion for amendment to caption. (This means sitting in a courtroom for 2+ hours for the judge's signation and a trip to the post office for a certification of mailing AND then a trip back to court to file the proof of service and then AGAIN a trip back to court tomorrow night for the actual hearing on my petition to correct his name.)

17. MEANWHILE: I get a notice from the court that SEL is now SUING ME for the painting and refinishing of his floor. $2600!

Umm? Didn't we already do this? Doesn't the law go like this: "The landlord must return the security deposit, less any lawful deduction, to the tenant at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter. A landlord may use the security deposit: (a) as reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear, if the tenant damages the apartment"

And didn't the court ALREADY DECIDE that he did not have a case for "cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear" and that I did not do any "damages" to "the apartment"?

With all the trips to court, etc., etc., this is already feeling like Groundhog Day.

Here's what I think will happen:

1. I'll go back to court tomorrow night to change his name.

2. Thursday, I'll get an 'information warrant' for the DMV (to see if he owns a car which I could seize) and his bank (to see if I can freeze his assets until I can collect.) I'll mail these warrants and in a couple of weeks, I'll get a response.

3. Then, I'll take these responses -- proof of his assets -- to a city marshall. They'll then try to collect.

4. That should take a while.

5. THEN I'll go BACK to court on June 21 and show them my judgement for the first case and tell them that a second case on the same matter is wholly inappropriate and is, in effect, an attempt to appeal the decision of the arbitrator.

6. I suspect I'll win that case.

7. Sometime, then, months and months later, the marshall will succeed in seizing my judgement PLUS some big fat fee for her work in collecting it. Hopefully, in the end, it'll cost him an arm and a leg.

After all this, I wonder, was my ex right? Should we have left the place trashed -- with a broken window and dirty bathtub?

EVEN AFTER ALL OF THIS (which should be about 6-8 trips to small claims court, standing in line at the post office multiple times and so so much aggreivation) I think, no. There is a way to behave in the world. With respect and taking responsibility for one's actions and even in dealing with sleezballs, I take pride in that I have behaved well. I did the right thing. And hopefully, this will make the SEL think twice before behaving like a SEL with some other tenant.

Plus, I've learned a ton.

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Blogger SohoSally said...

This is *INSANE*! But good for you for sticking it out!

12:47 PM  
Blogger ariel deva said...

I had a landlord in Santa Cruz, CA stiff me for a deposit, as well as evicting us early (I made the mistake of giving six weeks notice- to be nice.) I was moving out of the country so I was not able to tackle the long process you have. But GOOD FOR YOU!! I think these people have to learn that they are accountable. But man, my condolences for all the hassle!

5:50 PM  

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