If you are a New York landlord that owns or manages one or a few rental properties, then you are unlikely to have a lawyer on retainer. To save costs and avoid frustration, landlords should recognize that when these five situations arise, it is time to hire an attorney:
- Evicting a Tenant: In New York, an eviction lawsuit is a summary proceeding that takes much less time than other civil matters. But, in exchange for the expedited treatment of cases, landlords must follow detailed court rules to the letter. These rules range from serving proper and timely notice on the tenant to filing the right papers in court with the appropriate legal arguments. Additionally, landlords should know at the outset that judges, who recognize that the subject matter of the litigation is the tenant’s home, set a very high burden of proof for landlords to meet. Thus, your case must be properly organized and argued by a skilled attorney. Novice landlords in New York should especially consider hiring a lawyer if (a) you are undertaking your first eviction, (b) the tenant has already obtained legal representation, (c) the tenant is filing for bankruptcy, or (d) you must comply with state and/or municipal rent control or housing program rules.
- Sued for Injury or Illness: As a civil litigator represented injured third-parties, I always made a point of suing both the landlord and the tenant regardless of what a lease stated because the landlord, as property owner, always has a non-delegable duty to maintain its property. Thus, if a tenant, guest or third party sues and alleges that s/he got hurt or sick because of your carelessness, then you will almost certainly want to hire a lawyer to defend you. Typically, if you have liability insurance and pay your premiums, your insurer will provide you with a lawyer to defend you against personal injury claims. But remember: you have the right to hire and consult with the counsel of your choice.
- Any Other Time You Are Going To Court: A former or current tenant – or even a contractor you hired – may take you to housing court or small claims court for any number of reasons. Claims range from disputes over security deposits, to allegations of incomplete or negligent repairs within the leased premises to claims for personal property damage. On the other hand, you may find yourself in court as a plaintiff – perhaps a contractor tool your money and did not complete its work. Regardless of the reason you find yourself in court, consider consulting a lawyer. Deciding whether to hire a lawyer should depends on (a) the complexity of the situation, (b) how much is at stake, (c) your budget, (d) your confidence in handling the matter yourself, and (e) your own experience.
- Audited By The IRS Or The State: When you learn that the IRS or the NY State Department of Taxation will be auditing your tax return, it’s time to hire a lawyer – especially if there is a substantial amount of money at stake. Hiring an attorney can also stop a problem before it starts. For example, hiring a lawyer before auditors find a mistake can help you avoid a potentially damaging and embarrassing situation. Tax issues are usually beyond the grasp of the average New York landlord, so it is smart business to hire the appropriate professional to work for you.
- Managing Your Business & Properties: Depending on your choice of business structure, you may need to file certain documents within New York on a regular basis. An attorney can walk you through creating the proper business structure that will serve your needs, apprise you of the legal and tax ramifications of each form, and lead you to the best business form. Also, an attorney should be consulted when considering taking on partners or re-structuring your business form. Additionally, there are certain matters of business operations that may call for an attorney. For example, buying or selling property as a business comes with legal risks and complex obstacles. If you, as a landlord, are not familiar with the intricacies of an inspection report, or do not know what it means to obtain a “clear title” – then you need a lawyer that can walk you through the process and avoid common pitfalls.
*Gene Berardelli may be contacted at: GeneBerardelli@ipglegal.com.
Gene is a New York street-smart attorney with an extreme passion for success. Gene specializes in litigation, arbitration and general corporate law for New York-based and international clients. He, also, is the host of a popular New York talk radio program.
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