DURING COVID-19 MORATORIUM, TENANTS WERE THREATENED WITH EVICTION
New York State Attorney General Letitia James launched an investigation into the NYC law firm of Kucker Marino Winiarsky and Bittens LLP (“Kucker”) for "deceptive practices" stemming from their issuance of some 54 eviction notices between March 25, 2020 and May 11, 2020.
On March 20, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 202.8 which, among other things, stopped all evictions for 90 days. Notwithstanding that moratorium, the AG’s investigation revealed that Kucker's notices failed to reference that restriction and wrongfully demanded that tenants either pay rent, vacate, or face an eviction proceeding -- conduct deemed violative of the Public Health Law, Executive Law and General Business Law.
In a statement to The Real Deal, Attorney General James said service of the “deceptive and false” notices was “incredibly harmful to the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers.” The Attorney General’s Office and the law firm reportedly reached a settlement on June 30, 2020.
For its part, Kucker maintained that it believed it was acting ethically and in the best interests of its clients and neither admitted nor refuted the investigation’s findings. The firm declined to provide comment to The Real Deal.
According to the report, Kucker agreed that it would withdraw the existing notices, refrain from sending "deceptive" ones, and that it would send informational letters to the impacted individuals.
It is not clear if any sanctions or penalties were imposed as part of the settlement. However, landlords should exercise extreme caution when serving any kind of predicate notice in a landlord-tenant proceeding for the foreseeable future. By way of example, the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which was signed into law on June 30, 2020, prohibits landlords from prosecuting nonpayment cases and evicting tenants who experienced economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, as per a July 9, 2020 directive from the Hon. Lawrence K. Marks (New York’s Chief Administrative Judge), new eviction proceedings are now required to include a notice to tenants advising them that they may be entitled to an extension of their time to answer in light of the pandemic.
Given what happened to Kucker, if a proceeding must be commenced, landlords should (at a minimum) include appropriate disclaimers and advisory language in their notices to avoid getting slammed for questionable litigation practices.