The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Richter too comprehensive to fairly summarize here, modifying Supreme Court, determined that the class action by tenants in defendant’s large housing complex properly sought repayment of rent overcharges. The complaint alleged the landlord, under New York City rent control and stabilization law, and pursuant to a 2009 Court of Appeals case (Roberts v Tishman, 13 NY3d 270), could not deregulate apartments while receiving so-called “J-51” tax benefits. The landlord argued unsuccessfully that the Roberts decision did not apply retroactively. The First Department remanded the case for recalculation of the overcharges and further held that Supreme Court should not have expanded the class. With regard to the expansion of the class, the court wrote:
CPLR 902 provides that a class action “may be altered or amended before the decision on the merits.” However, that provision also states that “[an] action may be maintained as a class action only if the court finds that the prerequisites under [CPLR] 901 have been satisfied.” Those requirements are generally referred to as “numerosity, commonality, typicality, adequacy of representation and superiority” (City of New York v Maul, 14 NY3d 499, 508 ). CPLR 902 further requires the court to consider a range of factors before certifying a class.
Here, the motion court improvidently exercised its discretion in expanding the class. The court’s order failed to analyze whether class action status was warranted based on the criteria set forth in CPLR 901 and CPLR 902. Conducting that analysis ourselves, we find that the redefined class represents such a fundamental change in the theory of plaintiffs’ case that expansion of the class would be improper. When the class was originally certified, plaintiffs maintained, and the court agreed, that its members were tenants who received deregulated leases while the complex was receiving J-51 benefits. The expanded class, however, would include tenants who never lived in the complex during defendant’s receipt of J-51 benefits, and who received regulated leases for their tenancies. Thus, the legal issues for this group of tenants are separate and distinct from those of the original class. Dugan v London Terrace Gardens, L.P., 2019 NY Slip Op 06578, First Dept 9-17-19