Tenant Survives Harassment Wins $219,500; Verdict in October 1981

A State Supreme Court jury in Manhattan has awarded $220,000 in damages to a tenant in a West Side Brownstone whose landlord had been found to have attempted to force him to leave his rent-controlled apartment.

The verdict returned last week awarded $19,500 in compensatory damages and $220,000 in punitive damages in favor of the tenant, Joseph Lima, who remained in the building despite the cut-off of essential services during portions of the three years the corporate owner controlled the building.

Directed Verdict

The jury assessed the damages after Justice Norman Murdue, who was sitting by assignment from the Supreme Court in Syracuse, directed a verdict on the issue of liability against the owner, West Seventy-Ninth Street Real Estate Corp.

According to the tenant's lawyer, Michael Mantell, Justice Murdue instructed the jury to make findings with respect to both compensatory damages and punitive damages, but placed a ceiling of $500,000 on the amount of punitive damages it could award.

The directed verdict on liability was entered, Mr. Mantell said, on the strength of a prior administrative ruling issued by the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal which fined the corporation $8,000 for intentionally harassing Mr. Lima and several other tenants in an effort to force them to give up their rent-controlled apartments.

Mr. Mantell reported that the administrative agency found the realty corporation responsible for the lack of essential services - including water, electricity, heat and security - which "persisted" from 1978 to 1981 while the corporation was in control of the building.

The damage award was issued against the corporate entity, and not the two principals of the corporation, Jenny Tobin and James Kilcullen. The corporation appeared solely through its attorney, Edmund Wolk, and did not present any evidence to refute the tenant's presentation on the damage issue, Mr. Mantell said.