Waiting for a Train in Forest Hills on the Day a Rent Stabilization Case Ended Well


April 28, 2022

As I write this, it is a gorgeous late April 2022 afternoon, and I am sitting on the Long Island Railroad platform in Forest Hills, Queens. I’m trying to get home. It’s sunny, cool and windy, just a perfect day. Every tree has blossoms.

I just came from the home of my residential tenant client. A beautiful little house in Forest Hills. It was in total disarray because they had just moved in a day ago. As we walked up to the front door of this charming house, my client’s four-year-old son grabbed my hand and said, “come and see my room!” He took me all through the house. He showed me a bird’s nest in the hedge.

Earlier that afternoon, my client and I surrendered the keys to his apartment to his landlord. Then my client took me, his wife, and three of his four kids to eat a celebratory lunch at this awesome taco place in Forest Hills. I must admit, I had two spicy watermelon margaritas and I’m feeling it. Frankly, I’m not even sure I’m sitting on the right platform. Either I am on the wrong platform or no one else in Forest Hills wants to travel back to Brooklyn this afternoon. Oh well, it’s such a beautiful day, and that was such a beautiful first home for my client’s family. As I looked around at all the moving boxes and the guys installing tile and the kids running everywhere, I saw a home that this family would grow in. The kids’ bedrooms, where they would do their homework, play their video games, and have their dreams. The kitchen, where they would eat meals together. The laundry room, where they would wash mountains of laundry.

When I met my client four years ago (in 2018), his landlord was seeking to evict him from a Rent Stabilized apartment. Of course, the landlord did not consider the apartment Rent Stabilized. The case was an epic battle between a very worthy adversary and I. The day belonged to my adversary in the Housing Court. It is so rare that anybody in my lane does work as well as she does, that I do not begrudge my adversary her victory. We were on appeal when we settled. We achieved that most wonderful of things – the mutually beneficial solution.

Still no train…but there are a few people on the platform now…back to our story. In the end, I bought my client the four years that he and his wife needed to get through some very important things. Two of their four children were born during that four-year period. The world entered into and emerged from a pandemic. My client and his wife marshaled their assets and located and closed on a house. I bought them the years they needed. In retrospect, with this beautiful, growing family, I am not sure that winning a two bedroom Rent Stabilized apartment would have been a victory. They got enough free rent to cover my legal fees, so it was a wash for them. Landlord got the apartment back and the specter of Rent Stabilization left forever with my client, as tenant declined to perfect his appeal. I made a real friend with opposing counsel. We are considering doing a podcast together!

I work so hard for the mutually beneficial solution. There is no holier grail in my work than the mutually beneficial solution, that sweet spot where we all win. Anybody can lose. And, you know what, anybody can win. If you play any case out until the end, there is always a winner and always a loser, and the decider of which you are is, ultimately, in someone else’s hands. But with the mutually beneficial solution, everyone wins, and you are the master of your own fate. The mutually beneficial solution is harder to achieve, but so often what the buyer of legal services truly wants.

And here is my train!

Respectfully submitted,

Michelle Itkowitz