By Carol F. Yost
On February 24, 2015, I received a very upsetting letter from a lawyer, falsely alleging that I had violated my lease, and my tenancy would end in 7 days; after that I would have to pay nearly 5 times my rent-stabilized rent—$3,000 per month for use and occupancy during whatever time I remained in what was no longer my apartment.
I was retired on a low income, about to turn 70 after nearly 40 years of living in my apartment. I had nowhere to go in this unaffordable city. Every time I heard workers speaking in the courtyard in front of my building, I imagined they might be coming to kick the door open, throw out all my things, and I’d be out with my cats in the gutter, and my books, my CDs and DVDs, and my letters and mementos, all covered with sewage and cigarette butts.
I will always be grateful to Yetta Kurland and her legal team for saving my home during 8 1/2 months of anxiety, with 6 court dates. There were setbacks; there were tricks pulled by the other side, attempting to make things ever more difficult, and there was a sudden reassignment of my case by the court administration to a less sympathetic judge.
Finally we all agreed to a long-delayed heater inspection. An intern from the Kurland Group was there as a witness. Lo and behold, a man shouting “I am the owner of the building,” the Man Himself, came, with an assistant. Whatever his qualifications to inspect a heater, he insisted he’d do that. He then ignored the heater, whipped out a smartphone and tried to take pictures of the apartment as possible evidence against me—supposedly proving I was not keeping my apartment properly. Both the intern and I said, “No pictures,” and blocked his smartphone lens. He began yelling, bullying his way around the apartment, still trying to take pictures, and then he shoved the intern, who said, “Call the police”—whereupon this man, who was much larger than either of us, left, yelling “Well, I have pictures anyway, and they’re going right to the judge!” But he couldn’t have done that legally, and it never happened.
Shortly thereafter, the other side settled, unsuccessfully trying to get terms unfavorable to me. We agreed that the case could never be revived. The mincing, arrogant and smirking lawyer for the other side shook my hand.
The next day I felt, strangely, a little sad. I did not miss the anxiety, but I missed the camaraderie I’d had with the lawyers. We were moving on. Perhaps it’s the same thing when doctors and nurses successfully treat a patient with a long illness or serious injury; their success means they may miss each other.
Meanwhile, the man who had bullied his way around my apartment had just closed his old management office and opened a new one next door, creating a new company name, with new logo on stationery and on shirts worn by maintenance men.
However, perhaps only 24 hours after the settlement, everything turned upside down for those involved in the case against me. The Man Himself was not the true landlord; he was the son, heir and manager of 16 buildings. His father, the owner, suddenly stormed into the new office, threw out the son and the son’s family working there, closed the office, and hired another management office. The son and his family, living upstairs in the same building (owned by the father), perhaps have had to move elsewhere. Probably the son is no longer heir. It is said he was stealing from the old man, and that he had many creditors.
Both the old management spaces, next door to each other, reportedly may be turned into a restaurant. I have so many memories of that first office.
The opposing lawyer, a Dickensian villain, has lost a major client. He may have trouble collecting his fees. And a maintenance worker, who told someone he had been paid $100 to snitch on the tenants so the son and heir could allege improprieties, evict them and get higher rents, was also out of a job. He had just been made superintendent; no more.
I am grateful to the lawyers who worked hard, pro bono, to save my home for me: the affable Zachary Albright Whiting, who wrote some of the legal documents, and who ably represented me at the first court dates; then Erica T. Kagan, who expertly finished out the case with aplomb; and Jason Mohabir, the intern, who cheerfully helped at the “heater inspection,” and at the filing of the police report, and who answered many of my questions; and of course Yetta, who took the first steps and then directed the handling of the case.
If this had been a play, perhaps the audience would have gone out smiling, but shaking their heads: “This was too neat an ending. Nothing like that could really happen.”
But it did.