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L & Tea Time with Michelle: Episode 8

Topic: Tips to Better L & T Trials
Guest: Joe Chajmovicz, Emergency Electric Generators

MMI: Today I am having my cup of tea with Joe Chajmovicz of Tree Top Development, and Joe, you’re a portfolio manager.

JC: That’s correct.

MMI: And it’s a thousand units you’re managing and they’re in Queens and New Jersey.

JC: That’s correct.

MMI: Joe has graciously agreed to come on today and discuss emergency electric generators for multifamily buildings. Now this might not sound like the sexiest topic, emergency electric generators, but when you need an emergency electric generator, it is the most important topic in the world, so I am going to let you take it away on the story, but 96 units, hot July night…ConEd shuts you down for the next 3 months…take it away..

JC: We were doing a J51, and we were updating the electric. When you are updating the electric on a J51, you have to get new service coming in from the street to the building, new meter banks, new risers up to the apartments, and you also have to replace GFI’s in the kitchens and bathrooms, and designated lines for an AC. So we filed for the permits, we had a licensed electrician do all the work. The work was going on for a month or so, which means that some wired were exposed, a lot of apartments were broken through with lines to pull in new risers. A tenant comes home, plugs in an air conditioner on a hot July afternoon.

MMI: It was a weekday or weekend?

JC: It was a weekday, and there was a spark, a short, not knowing what it is, I wasn’t there, but the tenant calls the fire department, either because they were smelling smoke, or there was an actual little fire.

MMI: And was I right, this is 96 units?

JC: Yes, 96 units in the Bronx. The fire department shows up, and they call ConEdison because this is an electrical fire. They show up, and there’s not fire, but because there was exposed wiring and because we’re doing work…

MMI: I thought also the Department of Emergency Management was there too.

JC: That was the second part. We’re getting there. So they saw the exposed wires, and ConEdison says, “Ok, you are doing work, and maybe when your electrician was there, he crossed wires and it’s feeding back to the service back in the street. So we’re going to protect our equipment, and we’re going to shut the service going back into the building, so that whatever is going on with the equipment, whatever mis-wiring, that’s not going to affect our wiring.” That’s when the Department of Emergency Management shows up. So now we have a 96-unit building, no power.

MMI: How many stories?

JC: It’s six.

MMI: So there’s an elevator.

JC: Yes, but no power means there’s no elevator. So that’s when the Office of Emergency Management from the Mayor’s Office shows up, and says you have to evacuate the building. My super calls me, it’s about 8 o’clock at the time, this has been going about since about one or two hours prior, “Come down here, we have a problem.” So I go down there, and they explain to me what they want me to do. “You have to relocate all these people to a hotel because they cannot live in the building.”

MMI: 96 families.

JC: 96 families, which doubles and triples, with families and kids and elderly and so on and so forth. Of course I am freaking out, this never happened to me before, I don’t know what to do.

MMI: Let me just ask you this: it never happened to you before, but it could happen to anybody.

JC: This could happen at any time, any moment, to anybody that’s doing especially this type of work. In general, if you have a fire or electrical short, it shouldn’t go to this extent, but because, like I said, we were doing the work and the wires were open and exposed, ConEd wanted nothing to do with it, and they weren’t going to get involved, it was easier for them to shut this thing down and say you could deal with this on your own. So this is going at 10, 11, 12 o’clock at night, and they also know they can’t find hotels for 96 units. It means they have to scatter them around the neighborhood, so that worked in my favor, and one of the liaisons of the mayor’s office said you have to hire – they used a name, either – a fire warden or a fire guard, which means you have to have a guy walking around the building with flashlights, with a cell phone, in case of an emergency, in case someone needs to walk downstairs.

MMI: You mean all night?

JC: All night because there’s no power and it’s dark.

MMI: I’m going to guess whoever offers those services doesn’t offer them cheap.

JC: They gave me a number who to call because, like I said, I didn’t even know how to go about it. They made sure to have 3 or 4, I’m sorry it was 6, one for each floor. So if somebody calls for help, you can get to them. We get through the night, and by the next morning, at 7 o’clock, I’m on the phone with the electrician to tell him what’s going on. The electrician actually suggested, if you can get a generator, we can power back up the building because the fact that we were doing the wiring and all the wiring is exposed and with open lines, it will make it a lot easier. Go find a generator. This was in 2005 or 2006, we had these phones then, no cell phones, and we had to look in the yellow pages, start calling for generators.

MMI: Generators-R-Us

JC: Exactly, or something like that. We called to rent generators. What size generator? To power a 96-unit building. My electrician gave me the wattage of what I am looking for. They’re like “no, we can rent to hook up to power a saw.” We ended up finding a company out of Connecticut, and they were able to have these generator machines available delivered by truck.

MMI: So these are the things that sit on the sidewalk like a trailer, and they hum, and they’re scary and they have tentacles coming out of them?

JC: That’s exactly what it looks like.

MMI: There must be…you must have to get a permit…what do you do?

JC: We did not get a permit. The only problem we had afterward was with the traffic department because we parked it on the street.

MMI: So you got tickets?

JC: We got a lot of tickets for them, not for not having a permit. Maybe today they have a system for it but we did not have that problem.

MMI: It’s running on what?

JC: It’s running on oil.

MMI: So you need to get oil delivered daily?

JC: Absolutely. We got a tank to hold 150 to 200 gallons.

MMI: But all this, the rental, the installation, and the oil – it was still cheaper than 96 hotel rooms for three months?

JC: Absolutely, dollar for dollar, it was a lot cheaper.

MMI: Did insurance cover any of this?

JC: No because it was blamed on the electrician. He didn’t take responsibility for it, but he was actually great help hooking it up. The City of New York gave us an ultimatum, by 6 in the afternoon, if you don’t have the building up and running, according to what I want to do, we’ll have to evacuate the building whether you like it or not.

MMI: So you had an hour.

JC: Exactly, but by 5 o’clock we were gone, and like I said, the company we rented from gave us all the wiring, and it was fairly easy once he got there, the electrician had his crew running the wires into the meter bank, and it was up and running. For about three months, it ran on oil, every day delivery of 150 gallons for the boilers and hot water. They were coming every day, filling it up, which wasn’t cheap, but they were doing what they had to do.

MMI: Now I think this is such valuable information because for a lot of people in your position, if the city is standing there saying evacuate the building, and you don’t even know you have this option, much less that it’s actually – I think the message I am taking today – it’s doable. Even in a multifamily, 100-unit building, you can put a generator and you can do it in about24 hours. This is in 2005 you’re saying, so…

JC: Right. Even today, especially after Hurricane Sandy after what happened in the city, buildings today are built with generators, and it’s probably a lot easier and more accessible. Maybe local companies have that. And just to touch on the topic, about mobile steam boilers, which is the same idea. Right now we’re talking in March and it’s freezing, you can have a breakdown in a boiler, and if you don’t have it up and running in a couple of hours, you’ll have the city there, the department of buildings, every agency stacking up against you to do something about it. There’s quite a few companies in New York City that do that. They have the big trailers with the hoses and the vents, and I’m sure you have to probably get a permit from the DEP, the Department of Buildings, but it’s doable as well. So, the message you should take home is things could happen, you might not about it, you don’t have to make the phone call to say, “Do you have available generators?,” but these types of things could happen in the future, and you may not need to get lost when something like that happens to you.

MMI: Thank you so much, Joe, that’s very valuable information.

Teaching Segment

MMI: Today’s teaching segment is part two of Tips for Having a Better Landlord-and-Tenant Trial. I just want to say this: I’m a lawyer, and I’m talking to you often about legal-type things, but the theory behind this is that the more educated you are and the more tools that you know are out there and available, the better you will be able as a manager or a landlord to work with your lawyer or proceed pro se.

Let’s start with Trial Subpoenas. There is something called a Trial Subpoena. If there is someone that you want in court to testify – let’s say it’s a non-primary residence case and there’s someone that supports the landlord’s assertion that the tenant has not used the apartment as their primary residence. Let’s say maybe it’s a super, now if it’s your super, then you could just say, “Hey, you’re going to court today,” but let’s say it’s a building employee who no longer works for you, anybody out there, imagine any scenario when you would like them to come to court to testify, but you can’t necessarily count on them being there, or even if you’re a little bit unsure they might be there, you do a trial subpoena, which is a document that says you need to be in court to give testimony at this time and this place, served just like a Summons and Complaint, or a Notice of Petition and Petition. Also, Judge’s Rules: every judge has a set of rules that go with that judge and they pose them online. It’s really, really important and really good practice to read the judge’s rules before you walk in for the trial because that might just be the judge who says that, “I only want my trials to go with people who submit documents on pink paper” – whatever it might be, you just want to know and seem educated about how that judge does things in that judges part.

Orders and Stipulations – this is very important. You might have a case that had motion practice in it, and the motion practice might have resulted in some orders that are important. For instance, if the landlord did a motion to strike some of the tenant’s affirmative defenses and counterclaims, and some got stricken, you want the document – the order – that you can show the trial judge that this is what happened in the case. You might have had an earlier stipulation where a tenant, in exchange for vacation a default, you waved jurisdictional defenses, you waved traverse – that’s an important milestone in that case, and you want to just have a little stack of your orders and stipulations, everything that is the controlling law in that case. You want to march into the trial judge with that.

Finally, affidavits submitted earlier in the case: so, if you did have that motion practice back in the resolution part, if you did have that, the tenant will have put in an affidavit in support of their motion, where they say, “I am the tenant, I am familiar with the facts, and here are the facts…” and it gets notarized and they swear to it. That’s an important document because that’s earlier testimony in this case, and now you’re in court. Let’s say it’s non-primary residence, and tenant says, “That Florida home- I’m only there in June and July.” That’s what they said in their affidavit, but now you’re in court, and the tenant gets on the stand and says, “No, no, that Florida house – I’m only there in December and November.” That’s different – you’d be surprised how many often that tenants forget what they said in their affidavit that supports their motion, and I think this might happen because sometimes counsel does not communicate well with the tenant and maybe that the documents aren’t so accurate – I’m not sure why. The point is that if you have a piece of evidence that the tenant has done earlier in the case, you want that at your table on the day of your trial, and those are today’s tips.

More Tips for Better L & T Trials

MMI:Michelle Maratto Itkowitz: Today’s teaching segment is going to be about tips to help you have a better landlord-and-tenant trial. In these teaching segments, I’ve talked a lot about how to put together the perfect landlord-and-tenant case. We’ve done tons of prep work, so let’s say you’ve done all your prep work…you’ve made a good case…you’re in court…you can’t negotiate a settlement…and it’s a case that’s important to you as a landlord and property manager, so you are going to try this case. This is going to be tips to make your trial a little better and a little smoother.

The first thing I want to mention is, you know how they have those tape recording machines in Housing court? Well, you have a right pursuant to the Civil Court Act to request a court reporter, an actual stenographer, one of those live people who come and type on the machine and it produces a computer transcript for you. Now, why would anybody want this? If your case is important enough, it if it is high level enough, if there are going to be people testifying, what you can get from this is the person goes up to testify, let’s say the testimony goes until the end of the day, and you’re going to spend the rest of the event getting ready for cross-examination. If you get a court reporter, and if you get yourself a transcript, then you have that available to get yourself ready and cross-examine witnesses. This isn’t going to be something obviously that you’re going to do in every case, but it’s nice to know that you can have it.

Interpreters – let me say this about interpreters. Certain language interpreters are only in on certain days at the court. I believe the Bangladeshi interpreter is only in Manhattan on the third Thursday of the month – I don’t know exactly what it is, but the bottom line is if your case depends on a language interpreter, you want to make sure that you’re scheduling your adjournment dates around that interpreter, so if the next available is March 31st, but the Bangladeshi interpreter isn’t going to be there when you need, then you’re going to be very sensitive to that.

Trial Memos – you know what’s really different about Housing Court – why it’s different than any place – is that the judge who’s dealing with your case to try to settle it, to do motion practice – that whole piece of it – that is all happening in a resolution part. If you can’t settle it, you’re going to go to an assignment part called Part X, and then you’re going to go to a judge who’s never heard of your case. If your case has sort a sophisticated, or is kind of a little different, anything off-the-beaten-path legal issue, it is good to walk into X and into your judge with a Trial Memo, which is a not very long, very, very short legal document that explains that legal issue to the judge. That’s a good foot to set off on with your judge, and those are our tips for today.

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