Tenants Face Off Vs. Landlords’ Lawyers

Thomas Breen photoThree self-representing tenants faced off against three lawyered-up landlords in attempts to stave off evictions. The final score at the end of the day: one win for the landlords, one win for the tenants, and one tie.

That was the outcome of three trials that took place in the third-floor housing court at the state Superior Court building at 121 Elm St.

A vast majority of the three dozen cases on this past Tuesday’s docket didn’t make it all the way to trial. Many resolved instead in the court’s hallways and atrium with the help of court-appointed mediators.

Superior Court Judge John Cordani did hear three separate cases in which landlords and their lawyers attempted to evict lawyler-less tenants who hadn’t agreed to deals.

One case involved a landlord who wanted to end an oral month-to-month lease with her tenants so that she could sell her property. In another, a Goldman Sachs subsidiary sought to move out a tenant from a foreclosed house. In a third, a landlord sought to evict a tenant for not paying $290 ... and for letting her son and his family live with her independent of the stipulations of the lease.

Each saw Cordani listen patiently and respectfully to both sides, and coax each towards a resolution acceptable to both landlord and tenant when possible.

Read on to see how he decided each case, and whether you would have made the same call.

“I Need It To Be Empty”

The landlord win of the morning went to Helen Hind, who owns the four-bedroom, one-and-a-quarter story house at 54 Dudley St. in Hamden’s Newhall neighborhood just over the New Haven town line.

Hind and Hamden attorney Sandra Huggins appeared in the cavernous wood and stucco and marble decorated third-floor court room on Tuesday for their motion for the summary process eviction of Hind’s tenants, Ghiralla Saed and Ngwy Elnaed.

Hind explained to Cordani that the impetus for the attempted eviction is a deal she has in place to sell the house.

“There’s someone purchasing the house,” she said. “I need it to be empty.”

According to the court record, Hind and Huggins filed for the summary process eviction on Oct. 24.

An Oct. 24 complaint written by Hind and signed by Huggins states that Hind entered into an oral month-to-month lease with Saed and Elnaed on Jan. 1, 2018. The complaint states that Hind allowed the couple and their three children to stay in the house through May 31. On July 18, Hind served a notice to quit possession of the property by July 31.

“The Defendants have failed to vacate the premises as required by the Notice to Quit and remain in possession,” the complaint reads. “The Plaintiff asks the Court for Judgment For Immediate Possession of the Premises.”

Saed and Elnaed appeared at the defendants’ table with their young daughter, the latter dressed in a pink sweater and in tears throughout the proceeding.

Saed, in a puffy winter jacket and black sunglasses resting on his forehead, said that he and his family have always been good tenants. They’ve always paid their $700 monthly rent on time. When Hind asked for him to pay a security deposit three months into their stay at 54 Dudley, he said, he worked out an installment plan with her, and got all paid up by October.

“Why didn’t she ask us earlier?” asked Elnaed, who was dressed in a blue-and-green patterned head scarf and holding her daughter to keep the latter from crying too loudly. She said that now is not a good time for her family to move: her children are in school, and her husband will be having a biopsy before the end of the year because of serious health problems.

“I want move as soon as possible,” Saed said. However, he said, needs time. He asked Cordani to grant him and his family four months to find a new place to live.

Cordani asked Hind if she wanted Saed and his family to move out.

“I do not trust them,” Hind replied. Plus, she said, she has a deal in place to sell the house, but first the house has to be empty. Huggins said that the initial closing date for the sale was Nov. 16, but Hind has not been able to close on the deal because Saed and his family are still living there.

Huggins said she and Hind would be open to letting Saed and his family stay at the property through Dec. 15 while they look for a new place to live.

“Is that the best we can do?” Cordani implored.

Huggins said she would accept letting the family stay on site through the end of December.

After both sides had said their pieces, Cordani reiterated the facts of the case, and then ruled that Saed, Elnaed and their family had to move out by Dec. 31.

“The court is compelled to make a judgment for the plaintiff,” he said, since Hind and Saed had only an oral month-to-month lease, and Hind was well within her right to terminate the lease. He said that Hind had given Saed and his family ample time between the July notice to quit and the November court hearing to find a new place to live.

He did add that Saed can return to the court and request for an extension, aso long as he goes to reasonable efforts over the next month to find a new place to live.

Winter Homelessness vs. Extra Time In Foreclosed Home

The landlord-tenant tie of the day came in MTGLQ Investors, LP v. Heath, Harold et Al, in which a subsidiary of the investment bank Goldman Sachs had moved to evict a man still occupying a house, at 20 Hickory Lane in Madison, that had been foreclosed upon back in April.

Warwick, Rhode Island attorney Chad Morrone represented the Goldman Sachs company MTGLQ Investors, LP. Edward Heath represented himself and his father, Harold, who still live at the Madison property.

According to court records, Morrone filed a complaint against the Heaths on Sep. 21 in which he stated that MTGLQ Investors bought the 20 Hickory Lane house at a foreclosure sale on Apr. 7, 2018. On Aug. 29, the new landlord served the Heaths with a notice to quit possession of the leased property on or before Sept. 7.

“Although the time designated in the notice for the Defendants to quit possession of the premises has passed,” Morrone wrote, “the Defendants still continue in possession.”

On Oct. 31, Cordani ruled in favor of the plaintiff by virtue of the defendant failing to appear at court on Oct. 25.

But on Nov. 6, Heath submitted an application for a stay of execution of the eviction, noting that he did not know that he was supposed to be at court on Oct. 25. Heath also asked the court for mercy because winter approaches and he and his father would be homeless if they had to leave the house immediately.

In court on Tuesday, Heath asked Cordani for six months to find a new place to live.

“I’m partially disabled,” he said. He added that his 89-year-old father is also infirm. He said he is currently looking for new housing, but needs more time to find it.

The landlord’s lawyer, from the Rhode Island firm Marinosci Law Group LP, said that he has sympathy for the Heaths, and does not want to evict them into the cold at the beginning of winter. But, he said, the Heaths had not paid their mortgage on the property for three years prior to the foreclosure. He said his client would be open to letting the Heaths stay at the property a little bit longer, but not the full four months requested by Heath.

Cordani thanked the landlord’s lawyer for being open to giving the Heaths a bit more breathing room to find a new place to live. The judge put a stay on the execution of the eviction through Jan. 31, and did not make it a final stay, leaving Heath the opportunity to request more time if he and his father have not found a new home by the end of the next two months.

Five Bucks Short

The clear tenant win of the day went to Lorraine Gordneer, a West Haven woman facing a summary process eviction action from Meadow Landing I, LP Property Manager Tina Atilho and her lawyer, New Haven Attorney Adam Miller of the downtown firm Susman, Duffy, & Segaloff.

According to court records, Meadow Landing I, LP wanted to evict Gordneer from her apartment at 366 Meadowbrook Court in West Haven because the 68-year-old woman allegedly violated the terms of a stipulation that she had agreed to in March resulting from a prior attempted eviction for nonpayment of rent.

That March stipulation set a non-final stay of eviction through Oct. 31, and required Gordneer to pay $1,050 each month from April through August, and then $1,125 from September on in order to make up for previously underpaid rent and security deposit payments.

“If defendant complies,” the stipulation reads, “including payment of the security deposit balance, defendant will be reinstated as a tenant in good standing on November 1, 2018 ... Plaintiff will not object to defendant’s motion to open and vacate the judgment after defendent has been reinstated in good standing, provided that defendant has made payment as agreed.”

But on Oct. 24, Miller submitted to the court an affidavit alleging noncompliance with the stipulation. In that affidavit, Miller and Meadow Landing attest that Gordneer had fallen behind on her required payments. In one case, the tenant had come up short by ... $5.

The affidavit claims that Gordneer underpaid on her lease payments by $5 on Sept. 20 and by $75 on Oct. 18, and on her arrears payments by $150 on Sept. 18, and by $60 on Oct. 24. In total, Meadow Landing and its lawyer claimed that Gordneer should be evicted because she was $80 behind on rent and $210 behind on her arrears payments.

On Nov. 15, Gordneer filed an application for injunctive relief.

In court on Tuesday, she said she had tried to send the landlord two money orders totaling $145 in September to pay down some of her arrears. But the landlord had returned the money orders to her.

“They didn’t want to accept my payment,” she said.

Cordani asked Atilho why she had brought Gordneer to court over such a small underpayment. Under cross examination from her attorney, Atilho revealed that there was actually a second reason, seemingly more paramount to the landlord, propelling the attempted eviction.

Atilho said that Gordneer’s son, her daughter-in-law, and her three grandchildren have been living at the Meadowbrook property since the summer, in violation of the terms of the Gordneer’s lease.

She accused Gordneer’s son of being a bank robber, and said that she feared for the safety of the children at the apartment complex.

“I did try to give them a chance, Atilho said, “but they’re criminals.”

Gordneer said that her son and his family were not living at the Meadowbrook apartment. They had simply been staying there since Sep. 25, when their own apartment was flooded and they faced either living on the streets or temporarily shacking up with Gordneer.

“I wasn’t trying to conceal anything,” Gordneer said. “Do I put my grandchildren out on the street?”

Before issuing his ruling, Cordani reviewed the facts of the case: the March stipulation, Gordneer’s timely rent and arrears payments, her good-faith effort to pay down some of her most recent short payments with $145 in money orders, and the landlord’s refusal of those money orders.

“The issue of whether the defendant had other family members in the apartment is not squarely before the court,” he said.

He found that Gordneer is in substantial compliance with the prior stipulation, and that she had made reasonable efforts to make all required payments.

“The plaintiff should have used more reasonable efforts to resolve the situation,” Cordani said.

He then granted Gordneer’s request for injunctive relief, denying the landlord’s attempt to evict her and restoring Gordneer to good standing as a tenant.

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posted by: robn on December 3, 2018  8:16pm

Why does the NHI describe the “winning landlord” as the one that tried to end a verbal month to month lease so she could sell her house, but had to wait 5 months to do so? The housing court’s abusive bias against landlords creates so much caution, it makes it worse for people seeking housing.

posted by: Marion on December 6, 2018  6:26am

The judge recognized the landlord had a month-to-month rental with tenants who, although not entitled to it, were given multiple months by the owner to get out so she could close on the sale of her house. The tenants refused to leave and essentially squatted there, forcing her to resort to eviction (at her cost). Instead of heeding the law, the judge tries to broker a deal to get the tenants still more time to get out. The exasperated owner agrees to still more delay. The judge purports to issue an order of eviction, but out of the other side of his mouth signals the tenants that they can return later and ask for still another extension. I actually know people who will not become landlords in New Haven County because of judges like Cordani. And what about the buyer’s rights?  If the buyer balks and walks away, will Cordani buy the house so this woman doesn’t lose out? You have to be fool to be a landlord within striking distance of his housing court.

posted by: robn on December 6, 2018  10:41am

And to make it worse the court doesn’t empower clerks to reject frivolous or just downright incorrect filings so the system is even more open to be games.
It’s s bad system that needs to be dynamited and rebuilt from ground up. The local bar should be embarrassed.