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Lazar Mandler v. 71-11 Yellowstone Blvd. Corp

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK APPELLATE TERM: 2nd, 11th and 13th JUDICIAL DISTRICTS


January 24, 2012

LAZAR MANDLER,
APPELLANT,
v.
71-11 YELLOWSTONE BLVD. CORP.,
RESPONDENT.

Appeal from a judgment of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Queens County (Joseph Esposito, J.), entered June 8, 2010. The judgment, after a non-jury trial, dismissed the action.

Mandler v 71-11 Yellowstone Blvd. Corp.

Appellate Term, Second Department

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

Decided on January 24, 2012

PRESENT: WESTON, J.P., GOLIA and RIOS, JJ

ORDERED that the judgment is reversed, without costs, and judgment is directed to be entered in favor of plaintiff in the principal sum of $869.23.

Plaintiff commenced this small claims action to recover the sum of $869.23 from defendant, his landlord, for property damage that occurred when landlord's employee removed wallpaper in his cooperative apartment in order to repair a leak emanating from the ceiling. After a non-jury trial, the Civil Court found that, under the terms of the proprietary lease, defendant was not liable for the repair or replacement of the wallpaper and dismissed the action.

On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred because defendant had caused the damage, and the issue was not one of plaintiff's maintaining the interior of the apartment as required by the lease. A review of the record reveals that there is no dispute that defendant caused the damage when it repaired the leak emanating from the ceiling. Accordingly, as the judgment did not provide the parties with substantial justice according to the rules and principles of substantive law (CCA 1804, 1807; see Ross v Friedman, 269 AD2d 584 [2000]; Williams v Roper, 269 AD2d 125, 126 [2000]), it is reversed and judgment is directed to be entered in favor of plaintiff in the principal sum of $869.23.

Weston, J.P., and Rios, J., concur.

Golia, J., dissents in a separate memorandum.

Golia, J., dissents and votes to affirm the judgment in the following memorandum:

A decision rendered in a Small Claims Part of a court may only be disturbed by an appellate court if it is found "that substantial justice [w]as not . . . done between the parties according to the rules and principles of substantive law" (CCA 1807).

The most basic principle governing contract law holds that a contract "be enforced according to its terms" (South Rd. Assoc., LLC v International Bus. Machs. Corp., 4 NY3d 272, 277 [2005] [internal quotation marks omitted]). As the small claims court's decision resulted from a strict application of the terms of the proprietary lease for the cooperative apartment, I am in accord with that decision.

The lease clearly states that it is the lessee, here plaintiff, that is responsible for replacing wallpaper. Defendant lessor is responsible for the repair of pipes located within the walls. While the bathroom wallpaper was removed as a result of defendant's actions, those actions were in service of defendant's contractual obligations to repair the leak emanating from plaintiff's bathroom ceiling. Plaintiff pointed to no clause in the lease which makes the lessor responsible for the replacement of decorative wallpaper installed by plaintiff in such instances.

Reading the lease as a whole (see Matter of Riconda, 90 NY2d 733, 738 [1997]), the lessee is generally responsible for those items within his apartment, such as decorations, and the lessor is responsible for those items not within the apartment, an area which includes the spaces within agency-approved structural walls. It is perfectly reasonable to read the lease as simply dividing the assumption of risk between the parties, with both parties bearing the cost of repairing those items within their assigned areas of responsibility, regardless of the cause of the damage, excepting willfulness.

A thorough reading of paragraphs 4 and 18 of the lease in evidence supports this finding. While this particular manner of lessee-contractual shareholder-ownership affords lessee-shareholders the benefit of a third party bearing the economic responsibility for many repairs, lessee-shareholders also share in this economic burden of upkeep, one known well to all traditional homeowners. Indeed, it would be impractical to make the lessor economically responsible for the replacement of all of the lessees' furnishings or decorations affected as a result of required repairs made for the benefit not only of this lessee, but of all lessees in the building. Taking a contrary holding to a logical extreme would have the lessor bear the furnishing costs of a lessee who chose to apply gold leaf to his walls. Such a holding could not be valid. Thus, this lease should be applied in accordance with a plain and simple reading of its terms which has the lessee bearing the costs of replacing his wallpaper inside the premises.

Furthermore, plaintiff made no showing, by expert testimony or otherwise, that the interior leak was due to the negligence or actions of defendant lessor. The Civil Court could have reasonably found the leak, and not the actions of the lessor, to be the proximate cause of plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff also made no showing, by expert testimony or otherwise, that it was unnecessary to remove the wallpaper in order to properly repair the interior leak. Indeed, plaintiff ultimately consented to the removal with full knowledge that it was to allow for repair of the interior leak. Regardless, even if plaintiff may have been able to establish even remotely a claim under a theory of tort law if such showings had been made, the argument plaintiff chose to pursue here sounded in contract law. Thus, it was under the principles of contract law that the small claims court adjudicated this controversy, and the resulting strict application of the terms of the lease contract was in accordance with the substantive principles of contract law. I, therefore, would affirm.

Decision Date: January 24, 2012

20120124

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