Wishing everyone happy and prosperous New Year 2020! I would like to thank all the folks who subscribed to our YouTube channel. I received many inquiries about continuation of seminars (and their publications) on topic of U.S. Customs law and preparation for the U.S. Licensed Customs Broker examination. Because our office assumed substantial litigation responsibilities, we had to take a pause on the seminars. The pause, although substantial, is a temporary phenomenon, and we hope to jump back into the customs seminar business soon.
In the meantime, sharing of perspectives for dealing with neighbors is a topic of today. New York City is a crowded place, and living here requires one to deal with all types of individuals who may not necessarily agree with your philosophy. Sometimes such disagreements result in exchange of unpleasantries and discomfort. However, disagreements can also result in opportunities. One such opportunity was presented to me this Monday, January 6, 2020 on the Eve of Russian-Orthodox Christmas.
Upon returning home, I discovered that the Christmas decorations above my apartment building entrance were not working. Closer examination revealed that the Christmas projector was gone, Christmas garland not lit, wires were cut. Examination of camera footage revealed that the “Gremlin” culprit responsible for the deed had the same appearance as my neighbor. This was very surprising, because normally neighbors don’t do this (at least in my experience). After ringing the doorbell and knocking on the window, I saw my neighbor looking at me through the glass for a second, and then disappearing. After several attempts, and getting nowhere, I printed out the camera footage showing her act of taking down my Christmas decorations. The print out had a note asking to explain what happened. Having received no answer, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to look at the law and see how it is applicable to this incident. Most importantly, it is also an opportunity to see the difference, if any, between how the law is written and how it is applied.
First and foremost, it is of course New York Penal Law. Starting point is evaluation of statutes, including NY Pen. Law § 155.25 (Petit larceny), NY Pen. Law § 145.00 (Criminal Mischief in the fourth degree), NY Pen. Law § 140.35 (Possession of burglar’s tools). It is applied by calling New York City Police Department, and filing of the criminal complaint. After inviting police officers to review the footage (reproduced below, but in a raw format) and issue a report, the impression was not very optimistic in light of much more serious (in NYPD’s discretion) crimes that are overwhelming the department. Therefore, a civil side may provide answers.
One possible pointer is whether the Landord can put pressure on a naughty neighbor to return the Christmas decorations (or pay for them). It turns out that our legislature thought of situations such as these and designed statutory framework of incentives. On such incentive is N.Y. Real Prop. Law § 231, which holds Landlord liable for tenant’s acts:
The owner of real property, knowingly leasing or giving possession of the same to be used or occupied, wholly or partly, for any unlawful trade, manufacture or business, or knowingly permitting the same to be so used, is liable severally, and also jointly with one or more of the tenants or occupants thereof, for any damage resulting from such unlawful use, occupancy, trade, manufacture or business.
The problem is of course the “knowledge” prong. So to avail yourself of N.Y. Real Prop. Law § 231, Landlord must be notified. This implies that after notifying the Landlord, my naughty neighbor needs to do another illegal act, before Landlord can be named as a defendant.
Another statute is Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 715, which would allow the victim to step into the shoes of a Landlord of a naughty neighbor, and begin a holdover process. The statute requires certain condition, which include: (1) neighbor’s apartment be within 200 feet of victim’s apartment, (2) service to landlord, and (3) lack of response from landlord. New York judiciary is quite explicit that RPAPL § 715 involves “matters of public policy for the protection of the safety and welfare of neighboring tenants and the community.” RRW Realty Corp. v. Flores, 1999, 179 Misc.2d 757, 686 N.Y.S.2d 278.
Finally, there is a tort action upon tenant herself. Provided the small amounts involved, the matter will be handled by small claims court, with allegations of conversion and civil theft and trespass. Depending on the nature of naughtiness, and one’s energies, one can avoid small claims route and opt for preliminary and permanent injunctions under CPLR §§ 6301,6311.
In this video footage, all of criminal acts are allegations and actors are presumed innocent until proven guilty in the court of law.