Friscia v Lem Lee 13th Limited Partnership

On February 1, 2007, in Friscia v Lem Lee 13th Limited Partnership, 2007 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 1046 (1st Dep’t 2007), Kucker Marino Winiarsky & Bittens, LLP won a significant victory for a residential landlord, by establishing that the DHCR has primary jurisdiction over rent overcharge complaints and a stabilized tenant cannot circumvent the agency’s jurisdiction by commencing a court proceeding. The tenant had attempted to avoid the 4-year statute of limitations on rent overcharge complaints filed with the DHCR, by commencing a court action for an order “declaring” that he was paying a rent overcharge based on evidence going back beyond four years. Clearly hoping the Court would apply less stringent rules than those applied by the DHCR, the tenant argued that the Court should determine his overcharge complaint. Kucker Marino Winiarsky & Bittens moved to dismiss the action, and the motion was successful. The Appellate Division affirmed. This decision is extremely important to owners of rent stabilized and rent controlled apartments as it requires that a tenant claiming a rent overcharge must first file a complaint with the DHCR. It has been our experience that tenants’ attorneys have been advising tenants to commence court proceedings, instead of filing overcharge complaints with the DHCR, hoping that individual judges will not follow established DHCR rules and precedent, especially with respect to the 4-year statute of limitations. This precedent may convince other judges before whom a rent overcharge complaint is raised to dismiss those claims as well.