Sokolski & Zekaria, P.C. - Areas of Practice
LANDLORD-TENANT LAW FOR TENANTS ONLY
PRACTICE AND PHILOSOPHY: Sokolski & Zekaria, P.C. specializes in real estate litigation with the bulk of our practice consisting of the representation of residential and commercial tenants. We do not represent landlords or prime tenants seeking to evict their subtenants or roommates.
Our decision not to represent landlords derives from our belief that housing is a human right. To avoid the dilemma of deciding whether a particular eviction is a just one, we choose not to go down that slippery slope. Moreover, as advocates committed to housing rights, we believe our energies are best utilized protecting and fighting for tenants to retain their homes and obtain all rights and services attendant thereto. We take this commitment very seriously.
Our landlord-tenant practice includes each and aspect affecting tenants including, but not limited to:
AFFIRMATIVE PROCEEDINGS: these are cases commonly brought against landlords and/or other responsible parties to vindicate the rights of tenants or other occupant(s) and/or to protect their tenancy, health or safety:
- Wrongful Deregulation of rent stabilized apartments and incidental claims to set a maximum regulated rent for wrongfully deregulated apartments and award overcharges
- Warranty of habitability claims and defenses
- HP Actions to force landlords to make repairs and remove violations
- Succession Rights
- Certificate of Occupancy issues
- Overcharges in rent regulated apartments
- Unlawful Evictions and Illegal Lockouts
- Nuisance cases
DEFENSE OF EVICTION PROCEEDINGS: these are cases commonly brought by landlords to evict tenants:
- Non-Primary Residency
- Owner Use/Occupancy
- Unlawful Sublet
- Succession Rights
- Illegal Alterations
- Nonpayment of rent
- Failure and/or refusal to sign a rent stabilized renewal lease
- Pet cases
AGENCY PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND COMMUNITY RENEWAL (DHCR), NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT (HPD) AND NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY:
- Complaints filed with Division of Housing & Community Renewal (DHCR) for overcharges, harassment or decrease in services
- Defense of applications filed by the landlord at DHCR for increases in based upon alleged Major Capital Improvements (MCI’s)
- Department for The Aged and Department of Finance matters, such as Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) issues
- Defense of applications filed by the landlord to restore rent after a Rent Reduction Order has been entered by DHCR
- Defense of petitions filed by the landlord for High Rent/High Income (“Luxury”) Deregulation of rent stabilized apartments
- Defense of proceedings to obtain Certificates of Eviction for Mitchell Lama Housing and/or other housing regulated by DHCR or HPD
- Defense of proceedings to remove buildings from rent regulation pursuant to the Sound Housing Act
- New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) eviction cases and grievance hearings
- DHCR hearings
- Loft Board hearings
- Orders to Show Cause to stay eviction pursuant to a Marshal's Notice of Eviction
- Lockout/Unlawful Eviction proceedings to retake possession of an apartment
- Vacate Orders issued by Department of Buildings and/or other governmental agencies
- Halting demolition, renovations, alterations or other construction that threatens a tenancy, apartment or adversely affects the rights, health, safety or comfort of a tenant
- Restore to Possession (post-eviction)
- DHCR appeals, known as a Petition for Administrative Review (PAR)
- Article 78 Proceedings for review of Administrative determinations in Supreme Court
- Appeals of any tenancy-related matters
NON LITIGATION SERVICES:
- Sublet Requests made pursuant to Real Property Law §226-b
- Negotiations with landlords or their attorneys outside the course of litigation
- Research and analysis of legal issues
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TORT ACTIONS RELATED TO HOUSING:
While we do not practice personal injury litigation, SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. does handle tort and tort-type actions related to residential housing and commercial tenancies, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Housing discrimination
- Public and private nuisance
- Fraud or misrepresentation by landlords, their agents and/or brokers
- Property damage arising from a landlord’s negligence or failure to maintain a building or apartment(s)
- Damages arising from wrongful eviction
- Damages arising from trespass
- Conversion or negligent loss of the tenant’s personal property
- Damages arising from breach of the warranty of habitability
- Actions to enjoin (prohibit by court order) conduct that interferes with tenancy rights or other property rights
- Actions under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”)
- Actions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)
- Disputes in title/ownership of real property and imposition of constructive trusts
- Actions for damages and injunctions based upon unfair or discriminatory treatment of proprietary shareholders by a cooperative corporation.
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DEFENSE OF JUDGMENT ENFORCEMENT AND COLLECTION ACTIONS
SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. assists clients in defending and settling collection and judgment enforcement actions. While our clients’ particular cases vary substantially, a situation we routinely address is where the first notice our client receives that a judgment has been entered against them is that their bank account has been restrained and/or the creditor is making a demand to garnish wages. Often, this creates an emergency situation for the client. They are unable to make payment of their monthly bills, as their checking account has been restrained for twice the value of a creditor’s judgment by the client’s own bank.
In these cases, speed is required. Where the client has had no proper notice of the lawsuit and/or judgment entered against them, the case file must be immediately requisitioned from the Court that issued the judgment. Often, proof(s) of service of the proceeding giving rise to the judgment show that the client was served improperly, either at the wrong address completely, or at an address where they no longer live. Sometimes, it is a case of “sewer service”, where the process server did not even make an attempt at lawful service of process. Other times, the client was served and knew about the action and failed to timely respond, but has an excusable default. Normally, if the client can show an excusable default and a meritorious defense, the default judgment will be vacated and the bank account restraint lifted.
SETTLEMENT OF DEBTS
Settlement of debts, once they are confirmed and proper credit is given for all prior payments, is often a more desirable option than bankruptcy. More often than not, creditors also recognize that discounting a debt for settlement and payment is more advantageous than having the debt discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding. SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. has helped many of our clients to work out reasonable settlements of their debts and obtain payout schedules that they can afford to maintain.
Credit scores are always important. In negotiating settlement of your debts, SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. will also attempt to negotiate the way that the creditor or debt collector reports your account to the major credit reporting agencies. SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. can also help to eliminate inaccurate and adverse information from your credit reports.
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REAL ESTATE CLOSINGS AND OTHER TRANSACTIONS:
SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. handles residential closings for both purchasers and sellers in all five boroughs. We are also available for closings requiring our presence outside New York City (for example, Long Island and Westchester County). Our office is equipped to conduct all types of closings, including Single or Multi-Family Houses, cooperative apartments, condominiums and refinances.
We also assist in negotiation and perform transactional services for clients involving the sales or purchases of businesses and related issues, such as assistance with due diligence, investigations of existing or potential liabilities, violations and landmark issues, negotiating and effectuating the assignment and/or extension of existing commercial lease agreements, and novation (substitution of existing parties to contracts and/or leases for commercial businesses).
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Sokolski & Zekaria, P.C. practice includes certain types of consumer rights litigation that primarily, but not exclusively, affects residential tenants. For example, if your landlord's attorney signed a rent demand or your landlord's attorney is engaging in abusive behavior related to the collection of rent, the attorney's conduct may be a violation of Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
The FDCPA is a federal statute enacted to protect consumers from unfair or abusive conduct by third party debt collectors, including attorneys. In 1997, Robert E. Sokolski, Esq. and Colleen F. McGuire, Esq. successfully brought two FDCPA cases in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to subject three day rent demand letters (prepared and served by landlord attorneys in nonpayment summary proceedings) to regulation under the FDCPA. In 1998, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit confirmed, in a landmark ruling, that rent is a “debt” as defined by the FDCPA, and attorneys who regularly attempted to collect rent for landlords in Housing Court were “debt collectors”, and thus, were subject to regulation under the FDCPA. The case is Romea v. Heiberger & Associates, 163 F.3d 111 (2nd Cir. 1998).
The application of the FDCPA to the collection of rent in nonpayment summary proceedings changed the practice substantially. It required that tenants be given notices of certain rights under the FDCPA and to demand verification of the debts tenants allegedly owed. The FDCPA also forbids any abusive, unfair or oppressive conduct in the attempted collection of rent in nonpayment summary proceedings.
For more information about our innovative application of the FDCPA to residential tenants, and other FDCPA litigation, see Our Cases of Interest
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GENERAL CIVIL LITIGATION
SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. assists clients in various areas of general civil litigation including, but not limited to, the following areas:
- Boundary, encroachments and title disputes involving real property
- Imposition of constructive trusts to protect property owners who, for various reasons, are not the title (deed) owners to real property
- Actions for partition of real property
- General breach of contract actions and defenses
- Trademark litigation, including internet url trademark issues
- Actions to enforce the rights of proprietary shareholders under the Business Corporations Law, including access to corporate books and records
- Actions for unfair or discriminatory treatment of proprietary shareholder by a cooperative corporation
- Actions by a proprietary shareholder to challenge elections of directors and/or officers of a cooperative corporation or to remove director(s) or officer(s) for cause
- Shareholder derivative actions involving cooperative corporations and/or third parties
- Actions involving disputes between partners of businesses and division of their interests
- Representation of counsel involving complaints, investigations and proceedings conducted by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee (“DDC”)
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SOKOLSKI & ZEKARIA, P.C. has developed a very wide ranging appellate practice. We have served as appellate consultants, appellate counsel and “ghost writers” for many New York law firms in virtually all areas of the law, including, but not limited to:
- Appeals in all of our Areas of Practice
- Article 78 proceedings - Supreme Court review of decisions of governmental agencies
- Appeals in general civil litigation
- Appeals involving negligence and other torts
- Appeals involving maritime law
- Appeals and post-trial motions involving criminal convictions and state or federal sentencing
- Appeals involving the jurisdiction of courts in New York over foreign corporations and insurers
- Appeals from decisions rendered by Bankruptcy Courts.
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