Real Estate & Property Law

Law firm held liable for trying to evict elderly tenant based on incorrect client records

A Manhattan law firm has agreed to pay $22,000 to an elderly tenant and $108,000 in legal fees after a federal judge ruled the firm was liable for moving to evict the man on the basis of a mistake.

U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield said Kucker & Bruh “blindly” relied on the records of its new client, Mall Properties Inc., when it sought to evict 82-year-old Rafael Lee, the New York Law Journal reports. The client had failed to account for Lee’s rent exemption under a program designed to curb rent hikes for seniors.

Though Kucker & Bruh quickly stopped the eviction proceeding, it was still liable under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Schofield said.

Lawyer James Fishman represented Lee. He told the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.) the case represents a “paradigm shift for the landlord bar” that will result in fewer errors.

Lawyers who represent landlords, on the other hand, expressed alarm in interviews with the Law Blog. It’s a “very dangerous decision for lawyers,” said lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey. The judge “could not possibly understand the halls of housing court and the landlord-tenant industry.”

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