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On April 9, 2014, Abner Zelman conducted a presentation on the sovereign and diplomatic immunity of foreign diplomats and how to protect the rights of landlords when the issue of diplomatic immunity is involved. This presentation was held at the headquarters of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

This topic of diplomatic immunity is somewhat unique to New York City due to the fact that it is home to the United Nations. New York City is not only home to many foreign diplomats who work at the United Nations, but also to foreign missions who have leased offices throughout the city. REBNY had asked Abner to present on this subject after he had assisted a REBNY broker on a case involving this topic.

Abner’s presentation informed real estate brokers how New York City landlords should handle foreign diplomats and missions that have diplomatic immunity when entering into a lease with them. In Abner’s presentation, he outlined what diplomatic immunity encompasses and how it has expanded to protect commercial and residential leases. The status of diplomatic immunity becomes an issue for landlords in New York City because diplomatic immunity may cause certain tenants to be immune from lawsuits involving a breach of residential and commercial leases, including the non-payment of rent. Abner also indicated how several federal and appellate court decisions have favored the diplomatic tenant; leaving the leasehold rights of landlords vulnerable to disregarding tenants who have diplomatic immunity.

In concluding his presentation, Abner provided several suggestions on how to protect landlords’ rights when entering into a lease with foreign diplomats and missions. His suggestions included obtaining specific written waivers so that all privileges and immunities of the foreign diplomat can be waived to the fullest extent before entering into a lease; adding provisions to restrict the use of the residence to only the named diplomat and his immediate family; and requiring that the tenant to acknowledge express liability for any damages done to the property.