383 Realty Corp. v. Young, New York County Landlord Tenant Court Index NO. 89487/2011

In this residential landlord-tenant case the tenant was able to prevail on a laches defense where the landlord did not commence a summary nonpayment proceeding for 42 months after the tenant stopped paying her rent.  The landlord offered testimony that the delay in commencing the summary nonpayment proceeding was due to her prior counsel who told the landlord that the proceeding had been commenced and provided her with false reports concerning the status of the action.  The landlord even claimed that a paralegal at her former lawyer’s office sent her a falsified bankruptcy petition that allegedly corroborated  the lawyer’s claims that legal action had been commenced.

The landlord however, offered no corroborating evidence to support her claims of her prior counsel’s failure.  Moreover, the trial court noted that if the landlord’s testimony concerning her prior counsel was true it “has a remedy at law against those attorneys”, clearly referring to a potential malpractice claim.  On this basis the court upheld the tenant’s affirmative defense of laches.

The lesson of 383 Realty Corp. is clear.  Landlords must obtain confirmation that their attorneys have timely commenced summary proceeding or be prepared to seek relief from their attorneys’ malpractice carrier.