At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring Epstein Becker attorneys Tamara Bock, Jennifer O’Connor, and Anastasia Regne for their dedicated, creative and successful representation of Sanctuary client “Jane” in a challenging landlord-tenant dispute and application for relief under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
In 2018, Sanctuary for Families and Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. teamed up to work on an eviction proceeding that had been ongoing for a year. Although the client, Jane, had been diligent in making payments to her landlord since the beginning of the case up until the pandemic hit, there were accrued arrears based on the fact that the monthly rent had increased to an untenable level – nearly double what it should have been as a rent stabilized unit. And while she was happy to stay in the apartment with her college-student daughter after divorcing her abusive husband, the rent had become too high for Jane to manage on her own. Although Jane had good legal arguments to support her side of the case, proving them in court would be an uphill battle.
In came Epstein Becker. Jennifer and Anastasia, with tremendous support from Tamara and other attorneys and staff at the firm, got to work. Collaborating with former Sanctuary attorneys Dana Kaufman and Sandra Takami, the team concluded that the way to push the case forward would be to retain an expert who could speak to the adequacy of the landlord’s arguments for why the building was allegedly no longer subject to rent regulation. The Epstein Becker team moved for expert discovery and ultimately won the landlord’s consent, premised on the landlord’s intention to submit his own expert report.
Epstein Becker then retained an expert at their own expense – a cost that would be prohibitive for most individual tenants – and worked with the expert to conduct a thorough inspection of Jane’s unit and key areas in the apartment building. The expert completed his review and subsequently prepared a report that debunked the landlord’s theory underlying its case and supposed justification for charging a market rent. Although the landlord claimed they wanted to submit their own expert report, they did not produce one timely. After several extensions to the deadline passed, the landlord ultimately filed an order to show cause in which they sought permission to submit a report after the deadline, but to no avail. The Epstein Becker team skillfully opposed the order to show cause, and the court denied the landlord’s request.
That was the turning point. The landlord, apparently realizing what a strong case Jane had, began to engage in settlement discussions. Unfortunately, by that point, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak, and it had become even harder for Jane to make rent and utility payments. Her arrears, as claimed by the landlord, had reached nearly $70,000.
Undaunted by the challenge, Anastasia did the painstaking work of filing an application on Jane’s behalf for relief under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERAP”), an economic relief program that permitted eligible households in New York State to request assistance for rental and utility arrears accumulated during the COVID-19 crisis. The application process was not without its challenges, however (including all-too-familiar crashes on the application website, which required Anastasia to start from scratch on more than one occasion), but ultimately it worked. Jane was granted relief in the form of $22,500, which was paid directly to her landlord.
Between the strength of Jane’s legal case, particularly with the benefit of the impactful expert report, and the show of good faith evident in the team’s efforts to get ERAP relief while negotiations were ongoing, Jane and the landlord were able to come to a favorable resolution. And best of all for Jane, her daughter was able to stay in the apartment until she earned her design degree last May, which she had been working towards throughout the stressful ordeal.
Reflecting on the case, Anastasia noted how meaningful the matter was for Jane and how satisfying it was to work on the case. “Public interest work can be very challenging,” she said, “but this felt like a very good result.”
Thanks to the tireless advocacy and empathy offered by Jennifer and Anastasia, Jane and her daughter received the support they needed in their legal battle.
“The wholistic aspect of Sanctuary’s work covers every aspect of the clients’ needs, to ensure that they continue to succeed in their lives even after the legal case has been resolved.”
Associate, Epstein Becker
Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor the Epstein Becker team’s outstanding pro bono work.
If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.
Colleen O’Brien is a member of the Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono Council. She is a Managing Director and Senior Counsel at Goldman Sachs.