Q&A: Evicting Disruptive Neighbors

Q&A: Evicting Disruptive Neighbors

Q I own a co-op. A husband and wife live in a neighboring unit that is owned by their son. Many years went by without incident. But in the last couple of years, the woman has started verbally abusing me to the point that I have had to call the police on numerous occasions and eventually filed for a restraining order. She has left threatening messages on my voice mail and has written multiple letters about me to the board. At different times, she has also accosted the building's decorator, the super, the management, and even the board president. I have petitioned for the couple's eviction, and the board has sent her son several letters, but both the district attorney and the board want us to go for mediation. I don't feel protected. When is enough enough?

—Safety-Conscious Cooperator

A “The decision as to whether to commence eviction proceedings or not against the offending shareholder rests solely within the sound business judgment of the board,” says attorney Stewart Wurtzel of the Manhattan-based law firm of Deutsch, Tane, Waterman & Wurtzel, P.C. “Many reasons may exist as to why the board chooses not to commence eviction proceedings at this time, including the potential litigation costs of bringing such an action and the possibility that the action would not be successful. Given that both the district attorney and the board are recommending mediation, there may be some concern that the neighbor may suffer from some disability, that the offending conduct is not as severe as described by the complaining shareholder, or that the situation is not as one-sided as described by the complaining shareholder.

“But that does not leave the shareholder without several possible avenues of redress. First, if the conduct is as described, the neighbor's conduct may be causing a breach of the warranty of habitability so that the complaining shareholder is justified in withholding maintenance and obtaining an abatement of maintenance from the cooperative until the offending conduct ceases. The shareholder should be aware that the cooperative may elect to sue him for non-payment and he would have to assert the breach of the warranty of habitability as a defense to that proceeding. The hope is, however, that the threat of the abatement owed to the complaining shareholder would convince the cooperative to take action against the offending neighbors.

“Provided such a provision exists in the building's proprietary lease, in order to get the offending conduct to stop, the board could bring a holdover proceeding against the neighbors based upon the shareholder's violation of the proprietary lease provision prohibiting a shareholder or occupant from engaging in any conduct which interferes with the comforts or conveniences of other occupants.

“The cooperative could also seek to terminate the neighbor's lease on objectionable conduct grounds (assuming such a provision is contained in the lease) if the board feels it can get the appropriate votes from either the shareholders or the board (whichever is required by lease).

“The shareholder also has the right to bring a nuisance suit directly against the offending shareholder and obtain an injunction against the offending conduct. The cooperative would not have to be a party to such a suit. Repeated violations of a court's order regarding behavior could result in contempt sanctions being levied against that shareholder.

“Mediation may have been suggested to try to reach an amicable and inexpensive resolution to the problem. Mediation can work if both parties are willing and able to compromise and cooperate. Perhaps the board and the district attorney feel that middle ground is reachable and that eviction proceedings are not appropriate under the circumstances. Neither party loses any rights by simply participating in mediation.”

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