In January I started looking through the various increase notices my landlords had left over the last four decades. I threw them in a box every year without much scrutiny. They came around the same time in the Fall and the rate usually looked right.
As I looked at them more closely, however, I noticed a few times they had not waited a full 12 months before issuing the next increase. The Tenants Union counselor said it may not amount too much money but it wouldn’t hurt to file my claim with the Rent Board. I did and four months later the hearing was scheduled.
I was told I did not need counsel since this was an informal procedure. So I was surprised when Vince Young showed up with his. I sat down in the waiting area and a woman came over and introduced herself as Denise Leadbetter, attorney for my landlord.
When we were called into the hearing room, we walked past various clerks in the office. Ms. Leadbetter was obviously familiar to them, she greeted one by name and told another that she would check in after the hearing about papers in another matter. They were all players who knew each other. A seasonal muffin basket or a bottle of bubbly on a special occasion might be enough to lift Justice’s blindfold, even if only slightly. The deck was probably stacked against me.
We were given the oath by the Judge. Vince Young and I answered “I do” while Ms. Leadbetter added dramatic flourish with something like “I solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
I was asked if I was the tenant of the unit in question. I answered yes. Vince Young was asked if he was the landlord. This caused a moment of confusion for he and his counsel. Ms. Leadbetter looked like she was wrestling with a fine translation of Beowulf as she huddled with her client to get the precise term for his role. They decided that he was there as the “spokesman” for the LLC that owned my building. That would not have been my characterization.
So in his role as LLC spokesman and me in mine as tenant’s spokesperson, the hearing began. I was thrown for a loop when the Judge opened by asking me to present my case. I was under the impression that there were no arguments, that the proceeding was to discuss the rent increases I had submitted copies of.
She agreed but added we had to establish a complete history of my rent. That was like going back to the beginning of time, I did not have notices for all 38 years. After a stilted silence I asked “can we use cancelled checks?” She said yes.
I pulled up my ‘Be Organic’ canvas shopping bag and came up with checks, money orders and bank statements that connected most of the dots. I was told I had a week to submit documentation for the two small gaps that remained. The hearing was adjourned, a written decision would be forthcoming in about a month.
During the course of the proceeding, Ms. Leadbetter never missed an opportunity to call the Judge “your honor.” As she laid it on pretty thick I wondered if that was appropriate. Is an Administrative Judge addressed the same as a State or Federal one? It seemed a little over the top for something that was billed as informal. But then civility is the oil that greases the wheels (and egos) of our justice system.
Because of my uncertainty I did not honor the your honor system. I politely answered yes or no. As I left I thanked her high holiness. She responded with a chilling “good luck to you.”
The Eviction Story
- As the Pot Melts
- Rear Window
- Christmas, Baby Please Come Home
- Mein Kampf
- Visions of Carlotta
- Rotten Plums
- Your Eminence, Your Worship, Your Grace
- Mon Petit Chiu Chiu
- Would You Buy a Used Car From this Man?
- Don’t Piss on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining
- Second Floor, Women’s Lingerie
- What Have I Got to Hide?
- I Have Not Been Served
- A Woo By Any Other Name
- Meet the Mongels
- The Folks at Home
- The Great Un-Quashed
- The Only Person Who Can Judge Me Is Judy
- Said the Joker to the Thief
- I Left My Heart
- Up On Housing Project Hill
- I Fought the Law and the Law Won