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Wrongful New York City Eviction results in Treble (triple) damages

New York Landlord Tenant Law - Illegal Eviction results in Treble Damages

New York Landlords should beware of the consequences of utilizing self-help methods to remove your tenants. New York Evictions and, especially, New York City evictions can be difficult, time consuming, costly and, as in this case, have tremendous costs if not done correctly.

As to whether plaintiff is entitled to treble damages under Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 853, the statute provides: "If a person is disseized, ejected, or put out of real property in a forcible or unlawful manner, or, after he has been put out, is held and kept out by force or by putting him in fear of personal violence or by unlawful means, he is entitled to recover treble damages in an action therefor against the wrong-doer." "RPAPL § 853 and its predecessor . . . were enacted to discourage undue intimidation and violence in the ejection of persons from real property by providing for treble damages under certain circumstances" (Rudolph de Winter and Larry M. Loeb, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 491/2, RPAPL 853). The statute was amended in 1981 to include the references to "unlawful manner" and "unlawful means" (see Lyke v Anderson, 147 AD2d 18, 24 [2d Dept 1989]; see also Mannion v Bayfield Dev. Co., 134 Misc 2d 1060 [Sup Ct, NY County 1987]) and was "intended to remedy such actions as 'removing the tenant's possessions while he or she is out, or by . . . changing the door lock—actions beyond the narrow legal definition of force' " (Mayes v UVI Holdings, 280 AD2d 153, 160 [1st Dept 2001], quoting 1981 NY Legis Ann at 256).

The Plaintiff here "alleged, and provided an affidavit supporting his claim, that all of his personal effects, clothing, valuable jewelry, electronics and other possessions were removed from the apartment, and his demands for the location and return of his property were refused by defendants for at least a month...Here, defendants did not dispute plaintiff’s allegations that after executing a lease extension, which defendants wanted to rescind, he returned home and found defendants in the process of changing the dead bolt lock on his front door, despite the fact that they had not commenced legal proceedings to evict him and did not have permission to enter the apartment."

The Supreme Court, New York County (Joan M. Kenney, J.), awarded plaintiff the total sum of $53,534.98, denied defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, and granted plaintiff's cross motion for partial summary judgment as to liability, however, Plaintiff was denied supplemental attorneys' fees and treble damages. The Court here affirms liability, the Defendant(s) wrongfully evicted the Plaintiff, and awards treble damages. Treble damages are damages in triplicate, here awarded because of forcible or unlawful entry.

Since 1981, courts have framed the issue as whether, under RPAPL 853, an award of treble damages is discretionary or mandatory in cases where the record establishes forcible or unlawful entry into real property. Although this Court has not decided the issue, the Appellate Division, Second Department, and the Supreme Court, New York County, have determined that the legislature intended to leave the question of whether treble damages should be awarded, pursuant to RPAPL 853, to the discretion of the court (Lyke, 147 AD2d at 28; Mannion, 134 Misc 2d at 1064).[FN1] In fact, plaintiff here does not advocate that he is automatically entitled to recovery under RPAPL 853, simply because he prevailed on his wrongful eviction claim, but rather takes the position that the decision to award treble damages is a matter left to the Court's discretion. Therefore, the issue of whether the statute mandates treble damages is not specifically before us and we need not reach it.[FN2] In any event, plaintiff should prevail here under either interpretation of the statute.

Conclusion: "that plaintiff was properly awarded summary judgment on liability and there has been a hearing on actual damages, the record is sufficiently developed to determine treble damages ...Accordingly, under the circumstances presented here, we find that the trial court's denial of treble damages under RPAPL 853 was improvident and plaintiff is entitled to treble damages on his damages award of $6,700..." (citations omitted).

The case is Hood v Kozie, 2016 NY Slip Op 04889 [140 AD3d 563 (Appellate Division, First Department June 21, 2016)

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