I win!!!!

So remember how my old landlord withheld one month of my security deposit last year? In case you don’t, to recap: A few months after signing a two-year lease with my then-girlfriend C., we split up. We gave them plenty of notice, but they didn’t find a new tenant. So we continued paying rent on the now-vacant apartment for like two weeks until C. found them a new tenant. But the landlord, Midwood Management Corp., declined to sign a lease with the new tenant unless we agreed to sacrifice one month’s security deposit — $2300.  To me this seemed like blackmail. We were certainly willing to cover all of their legitimate expenses in re-renting the place, but those were minimal: the cost of a credit check and drawing up a new lease. (As mentioned, they hadn’t lost any rent on the deal because we paid for the vacant apartment).

So I wasn’t going to agree to this, but C. wanted to and asked me to as well. It seemed like if we fought them or refused to agree to giving up one month’s security deposit, they would leave the apartment vacant and maximize their damages. We were paying $76/day for this vacant apartment at this point. So, more out of courtesy to my ex- than anything else, I ended up signing a very vague agreement that said they would terminate the lease in return for “for valuable consideration, the receipt of which Owner hereby acknowleges.”

However after talking to my lawyer friend Tallman I decided there was a case to be that this agreement was totally coerced and should not be valid. The security deposit only exists to cover their legitimate expenses and should not be used as a bribe to get them to re-rent the apartment.

So I filed an action in small claims court. It was very simple and easy to file, costing me just $20. There was a preliminary hearing in March and then it went to trial last Thursday, May 8. In the interest of having it heard quickly we agreed to have it heard by an arbitrator, rather than a judge, which meant there is no appeal possible. So on Thursday I went up to room 775 of 111 Centre St. and had my case heard. I sat in a conference room across from Midwood’s in-house counsel and chief executive, and we both explained our sides to the arbitrator. I wouldn’t say we were friendly, exactly, but we were certainly very polite and civil and cordial to each other. The arbitrator listened carefully and asked some good questions.

Midwood’s president, Steven Brown, acknowledged under oath that he had rented the place to the new tenants for “a few dollars more” than what C. and I were paying(!). (He said he would have just left the apartment vacant otherwise). So not only did Midwood not suffer a loss in rental income by us leaving, the company actually profited!

At one point Midwood’s lawyer claimed their expenses in re-renting the place were in excess of $2300, such as their costs in getting the apartment ready for us. I was kicking myself afterward for not challenging that more. It was vacant when we saw it; all they did was put our name on the buzzer. And had it professionally cleaned after we moved out; I think we actually returned it to them in a cleaner condition than we got it.

Basically their position, though, was that we had consented to give them $2300, so it shouldn’t matter if they had damages or not. My position was that that “consent” was coerced by their outrageous conduct.

In the end I left thinking I had had a fair hearing and was satisfied I had gotten to tell my story to someone. And … guess what???  I guess the headline and the photo blow the ending, huh?  I got the decision in the mail today — and I won!!!!  I even was awarded $20 in court fees, which I hadn’t asked for.

All in I spent about an hour to file the claim, mostly waiting in line; maybe 60-90 minutes at the preliminary hearing back in March; a half-hour waiting for the trial on Thursday, and the trial itself was half an hour. I still have to collect the judgment, but hopefully that should not be a problem. Let’s hear it for the little guy!

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9 comments to I win!!!!

  • tallman

    Congrats on this.

    How are you collecting the judgment? Did they get the same notice of verdict? Are you going to have them send you a check? I wonder if they will be sore losers and drag their feet on sending you the money.

  • They should have received the same notice of verdict. (We both addressed envelopes to ourselves at the hearing). On the back under “information to the judgment creditor” it suggests I contact the judgment debtor and request payment. I guess I’ll try to do that in a non-obnoxious as way possible.

    They legally have 30 days to pay, otherwise I can get city marshals involved, have liens placed against their property, business licenses revoked, etc.

  • This post makes me so happy! I had problems leaving my last apartment too. I didn’t fight them, but it still makes me happy to see the little guy win.

    Keep us posted on the collection efforts.

  • I forgot to mention that as part of the preliminary hearing in March, we met with an arbitrator who encouraged us to talk settlement. But they were so sure of themselves they declined to even make me a lowball settlement offer. (not that I would have accepted).

  • congrats! I’m so glad to hear that, since it seems like it’s almost always the renters who end up getting screwed. Good for you for going to the trouble to file!

  • H

    Congrats!! Looks like your tenacity paid off.
    I took a landlord to small claims court once (also after a breakup!) and we settled. It always pays to fight I think.

  • Mum

    Well done!
    Isaac will be happy to hear about this. He had a woman hit his car with hers, she admitted fault, but is now refusing to return phone calls etc. Isaac needs to fix his car and then send her the bill, and if necessary go to small claims court. Isaac having trouble with the idea that people break their word. he had also never been involved in an accident before (with his or any other car – he has been hurt many times, esp on the rugby field!)

  • […] court case – update Posted in May 31st, 2008 by derek rose in Hell’s Kitchen, nyc So regarding my previously-blogged-about small claims case against my ex-landlord, I did get the check from the management company this week. Have already sent half to my ex-roomie […]

  • […] UPDATE: I took them to small claims court, won and got my money back. […]

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