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The stip says "legal fees reserved" do I have to pay them?

Brooklyn, NY |

I am going through hell with my gold digging landlord. I lost my job, and my unemployment benefits were abruptly cancelled after 9 months. So, I found a job, and applied for a one shot deal, and miraculously got it. The rent for this dump is twice what it should be, and June rent was due on the 1st. The landlord wrote "legal fees reserved" into the stip I signed. I genuinely took it to mean legal fees withheld. I can't afford to pay them, and they won't drop them. Any advice please??

Attorney Answers 2

Posted

It sounds like legal fees is an open issue to be resolved at a future court date.

I am a former federal and State prosecutor and have been handling criminal defense and personal injury cases for over 17 years. The above answer, and any follow up comments or emails, is for informational purposes only and not meant as legal advice.

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Asker

Posted

I guess as I paid the outstanding arrears via the one shot deal last week, I ended the future court date. Eric what do I do? Should I go down to the courthouse now?

Posted

Dear Brooklyn Tenant:

The choice to make an agreement to save your home in a nonpayment case even when the rent is unfair for a "dump" is yours to make. The fact that the landlord allowed you the chance to settle by agreeing to pay avoids the eviction if you do pay. The reservation of an entitlement to legal fees is a normal term for this form of settlement. The landlord does not usually "waive" the right to legal fees when settling with a promise to pay. Reserving the right to the legal fees is in case the tenant defaults in making the promised settlement payment, the landlord needs to restore the case to the calendar for an enforcement of the settlement and a right to either gain a warrant of eviction or a judgment for possession. So that means there are no "legal fees" due or must be paid unless the tenant defaults and does not pay as provided in the agreement. Even then, the Housing Court judge must determine the landlord's reasonable legal fees. Even then, the "legal fees" if not paid are not usually made part of a possession judgment and so not paying only the "legal fees" portion of the judgment by itself does not result in an eviction.

The time to inquire about the terms of the agreement is when the Housing Court judge asked for questions before approving the stipulation.

The answer provided to you is in the nature of general information. The general proposition being that you should try to avoid a bad outcome if you can.

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Asker

Posted

Many thanks Steve. Evidently, I missed the opportunity to raise the issue during the hearing. So, now I am faced with the landlord demanding the legal fees, which I do not have. So what should I do?

Steven Warren Smollens

Steven Warren Smollens

Posted

OK. How are you faced with the landlord re-opening the settled case just for a determination of "legal fees" unless you defaulted in making the agreed rent payment? If you did not default, the reservation of a right to claim legal fees is moot. The reservation of the legal fees claim is made just in case the tenant breached the promise to pay the rent and the landlord needed to return to court for more action by the judge. And, unless a judge awards the landlord legal fees there are no legal fees. And unless the judge adds the legal fees to any unpaid money judgment for possession, even a plain money judgment for legal expenses does not become a debt that will allow for an eviction.

Asker

Posted

Steve I apologize for the confusion, there is no further threat of eviction, I believe. My issue is I do not want to pay the legal fees, nor do I feel I should have to.

Steven Warren Smollens

Steven Warren Smollens

Posted

OK. My question to you: Why do you believe you need to pay any legal fees? The court did not award the landlord legal fees and the landlord was not forced to return to court for enforcement of the settlement.

Asker

Posted

Steve you are such a champion you really are, I have the utmost respect for your assistance to those who can not afford attorneys. The fact that the "legal fees" may be forced or not by law, I am still in a position where the landlord claims I owe them. I do not know how I can negate that? At the end of the day, I do not want to be renting from these scandals any more. It is part of a huge picture, and they have little to no regard for the law. Scammers exist, it is really up to me now to just find another apartment, which will be difficult as they have me listed in Housing Court, and have told me they will sue me for any monies owing whether I vacate or not.

Steven Warren Smollens

Steven Warren Smollens

Posted

OK. IMO you are over working this. The landlord cannot claim "legal fees" no matter what (in a rent bill or whatever) UNLESS AWARDED by the judge. Your stipulation contained a standard term and had you objected at the time you offered your agreement to the judge the judge may have explained the subject to you as I have tried to do so. The landlord's reservation of a right to claim an entitlement to legal fees is saved for that case alone and only in case the landlord must return to court to enforce the agreement. And that is all. If the case does not get back to a judge for a determination of the landlord's claim of entitlement to legal fees the reservation of rights is MOOT. The right to legal fees does not stand alone and cannot be a claim in a separate lawsuit. L&T legal fees only rise in the case where the landlord or tenant is a "prevailing party" and ONLY then if awarded by a judge. There is no general entitlement to add legal fees to the rent even with the "reservation" UNLESS the judge decided the amount of legal fees the landlord is allowed in the CASE where the claim arose. Every bit of information you provided suggests that did not occur. Going back to court to vacate a meaningless provision of a settlement where you kept your home will trigger the landlord's legal fees reservation and you will bring the legal fees to the attention of the judge by dragging your landlord back to court needlessly. At that time, you could expect the judge to award legal fees to the landlord. If you did not want the existence of the nonpayment case to come up in a future landlord's search for L&T cases you should have provided that the landlord will assist in expunging the record of this case from any date base maintained by a tenant screening bureau.

Peter J Weinman

Peter J Weinman

Posted

Mr. Smollens is correct.

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