Q My daughter has a lease on a first-floor apartment in Brooklyn that gives her exclusive use of the backyard as part of the rental space. Recently, the landlord installed a second door to the backyard from an adjacent apartment, effectively giving both my daughter and the other tenant use of the area. When she asked the landlord for a reduction in rent because the backyard was no longer her private domain, the landlord refused. What can she do?
A “The landlord appears to have committed a grave error,” said Thomas P. Higgins, a Manhattan landlord-tenant lawyer. Since the lease defines the tenant’s space as including the backyard, Mr. Higgins said, the landlord has no right to let others use it. “A lease gives a tenant the exclusive right to use and possession of specified property for a particular term,” he said. When a landlord permits others to use part of the tenant’s space without permission, that constitutes an unlawful eviction of the tenant. “A landlord who unlawfully evicts a tenant, even from a portion of the premises, faces significant liability,” Mr. Higgins said, itemizing these possibilities: “a discharge of the tenant’s duty to pay rent, monetary damages that can be tripled at the court’s discretion, and payment of the tenant’s attorneys’ fees.”