What to do if my building is forcing me to pay $375 for a scratch in the elevator that I did not do?

We sold our apartment upstairs and began renting one a few floors down so we rented the elevator to move our things and had to leave a deposit. After that day they claimed we scratched the wall but we didn’t and the scratch has been there for weeks or months prior. The walls on every floor have the same scratches. I refused to pay it and blocked my deposit cheque. Ever since they have been harassing me about noise complaints and countless other things that are not true and now threatening to evict us. We have lived in the building for 12 years and have never had a problem. What can I do?

Asked on March 9, 2012 under Real Estate Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

1) You can continue to refuse to pay, and if the landlord tries to evict you, if it is not for proper grounds for eviction (e.g. nonpayment or habitual late payment of rent; violation of material, or important, terms of the lease; deliberate or grossly negligent damage to landlord property; etc.), you could certainly fight the eviction, offering evidence or testimony during the eviction proceeding to counter the landlord's claims. Remember: you can only be evicted for certain reasons, and the landlord must prove them by a preponderance of the evidence (that is, that they are more likely than not to have happened).

2) You could potentially proactively bring a legal action for a "declaratory judgment," in which a court would find that you did not cause the damage and/or owe the money; this is not likely to be cost effective.

From what you write, the landlord is seeking $375. You may wish to consider whether it may make more sense to pay, rather than get involed in litigation with your landlord.


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