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  • Kevin O'Sullivan

Landlords and Tenants: Can My Landlord Just Change My Locks?

It is every tenant's worst nightmare-to come home and find that the landlord has moved all of your belongings onto the street and changed the locks to your apartment while you were out. Relax! Fortunately, New York State law expressly forbids this type of "self-help." However, if you are having problems with your landlord, it is better to be proactive and talk to an attorney before things escalate. If you are behind on your rent or your lease has expired, you are in jeopardy of being sued for eviction. If the landlord is seeking back rent and you fail to pay or reach a settlement, you may also be liable for a money judgment-which will garner interest and destroy your credit.

We find that the best course of action is to face the difficult head on! Do not ignore any notice left on your door or in your mailbox (you already know what it is about--and it's not good news!) Unlike those letters from Ed McMahon that find their way from the mailbox directly into the trash, the notice to vacate or terminate are incredibly important. These letters are the first step in your landlord's quest to evict you. Ignoring them only increases the chances that you will lose your apartment.

If you receive a legal notice to vacate for any reason, your first call should be to our law firm. Depending on the type of eviction lawsuit which your landlord has brought against you and based upon the facts of your case, you may have a variety of legal defenses. The law places the burden on the landlord to not only serve these notices in a specific format but within a specific period of time. If you have a rent controlled or rent stabilized apartment, the landlord has a even larger burden to meet before they can obtain a judgment of eviction.

If you have ignored all of these notices and find yourself being served with a Summons and Complaint for an eviction, you must act quickly. You are being told to appear in court as a defendant to an eviction action. Your failure to appear may result in a judgment against you. Accordingly, if you have ignored all notices and now find a judgment, warrant of eviction or marshal's notice on your door, you may still have a chance to fight in court but you must act fast.

Ultimately, no attorney can guarantee that you will be allowed to stay in your apartment but we can assure that we will leave no stone unturned and no defense tactic left unused in protecting your rights as a tenant. If you find yourself in a potential eviction situation or have been visited by the marshal with an eviction notice, please do not hesitate to contact us. We're here to help!

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