For years now, the Federal Courts have held that attorneys who commence rent nonpayment proceedings against tenants are “debt collectors” and, as such, subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act [“FDCPA”]. This is why, if you get sued for rent, you will also receive a FDCPA notice giving you the right to demand verification of the debt. If a landlord’s attorney fails to send you one, he or she could be liable for statutory damages.
Now, a federal judge has expanded the application of FDCPA and found a landlord’s lawyer liable for the landlord’s erroneous rent figures. In Lee v. Kucker & Bruh, LLP, the tenant who received a Senior Citizens Rent Exemption [“SCRIE”] and was only responsible for $401 out of his $790 per month rent-controlled rent. Based on figures received from its client, however, the law firm sued the tenant for the portion paid by SCRIE.
Even though, the law firm withdrew the court case when informed of the error, Judge Lorna Schofield found it liable under FDCPA because it did not have in place procedures to avoid such mistakes. In other words, a landlord’s attorney may not blindly rely on its client’s statements or business records. It must perform its own due diligence before hauling a tenant into court for alleged nonpayment.
This was a costly mistake by the law firm, as it got hit for $22,000 in damages and $108,000 in legal fees incurred by the tenant. Given this outcome, the case has been the talk of the courthouse as landlord firms scramble to put in place procedures to comply with FDCPA.
If you have been recently sued by your landlord for rent you did not owe, you may be entitled to relief under FDCPA. Call me for a brief, free telephone consultation.