CLASS CERTIFICATION SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN DENIED ON THE GROUND THE CLASS WAS TOO SMALL; PLAINTIFF-TENANTS ALLEGED THE LANDLORD DEREGULATED APARTMENTS WHILE RECEIVING J-51 TAX BENEFITS (FIRST DEPT).
The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiffs, tenants of a 49-unit apartment building, should have been certified as a class. The complaint alleged the landlord deregulated apartments while receiving J-51 tax benefits:
Supreme Court erred in denying class certification on the ground that plaintiffs failed to show that “the class is so numerous that joinder of all members . . . is impracticable” (CPLR 901[a]). Borden v 400 E. 55th St. Assoc., L.P. (24 NY3d 382, 383 ) and subsequent cases, such as Maddicks v Big City Props., LLC (34 NY3d 116 ), make it clear that qualified plaintiffs may “utilize the class action mechanism to recover compensatory rent overcharges against landlords who decontrolled apartments in contravention of Rent Stabilization Law of 1969 (RSL) (Administrative Code of City of NY) § 26-516 (a) while accepting tax benefits under New York City’s J-51 tax abatement program.” The legislature contemplated classes involving as few as 18 members … . Here, as in Borden, plaintiffs allege defendant deregulated apartments while receiving J-51 tax benefits. Construing the class certification statute liberally … given that the asserted class consists of former and current tenants who lived in the 16 units improperly treated as deregulated after November 15, 2013, while defendant was receiving J-51 tax benefits, it is reasonable to infer that some units in this 49-unit apartment building would have had more than one tenant and several tenants would have moved away, making joinder of all members impracticable … . The identity of class members, i.e., which units were treated as deregulated and who leased them during the relevant time period, is within defendant’s knowledge. Hoffman v Fort 709 Assoc., L.P., 2022 NY Slip Op 02510, First Dept 4-19-22
Practice Point: Here class certification should not have been denied on the ground the class was too small. The plaintiffs are tenants alleging the landlord improperly deregulated apartments while receiving tax benefits. Classes as small as 18 members were contemplated by the legislature.