Manhattan law firm Kucker, Marino, Winiarsky & Bittens LLP will pay $50,000 for sending misleading letters to hundreds of tenants in the Bronx for giving them a false sense of security and bad legal advice regarding their rent-stabilization status, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced June 17.
James also charged the law firm with stymying their organizing efforts with Community Action for Safe Apartments.
In July 2021, the attorney general’s office began an investigation into Kucker after Bronx Legal Services flagged an application submitted to New York City on behalf of the firm’s unnamed client requesting to deny rent stabilization status to 263 apartments. The letter failed to address potential rent stabilization protections for the tenants.
During the probe, Kucker admitted to improperly ghostwriting letters sent by the landlord to all 263 tenants containing legal advice about the submission to the state.
At the same time, CASA was working with tenants of the buildings to organize an association to advocate for repairs and to fight the landlord’s submission to the state.
The letter caused a major disruption in their organizing efforts, leading to further miscommunication and misinformation among tenants, and CASA had to divert resources in order to address the impact.
Now Kucker will pay CASA to make up for the money organizers spent to combat the misinformation. That’s almost $200 per letter.
It’s not the first time Kucker tried these shenanigans.
They sent dozens of deceptive eviction notices to tenants in June 2020—odd timing considering the statewide eviction moratorium that was then in effect, not to mention the pandemic that turned life upside down that spring. Kucker said they’d quit sending fraudulent notices after that debacle, but seems they broke their promise.
This time, they’ll also do ethics training.
And the next time they get caught breaking the New York Rules of Professional Conduct they’ll get a $5,000 penalty per violation.
“Today, we are holding Kucker accountable for jeopardizing New Yorker’s housing stability and failing to comply with the law,” James said.
“I will continue to use the full force of my office to stand up for tenants who are organizing their communities to ensure that safe, decent, and affordable housing is a reality for all New Yorkers.”
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson also weighed in on the small victory.
“I applaud New York Attorney General Letitia James and her staff for reaching an agreement with Kucker, Marino, Winiarsky & Bittnes LLP,” Gibson said.