Rent control: disproof by contradiction
Convicted of multiple crimes, a homeowner is about to be deported after several years in prison, but before he leaves, he wants his girlfriend to have his house, only his ex-wife and her children (two of them this) refuses to leave. So he goes to court to evict her.
Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Not necessarily charitable, but understandable and unremarkable.
Mr. Elgheur, recently
Except that’s not quite what’s happening in a Brooklyn apartment, and in New York City, the legal right to occupy a rent-stabilized apartment has become a property right, as demonstrated by the facts presented in this New York Post (December 17, 2012) newsworthy fulmination:
Con trying to boot ex, kids from B’klyn apartment
The morality play: “my ex-husband, the heroin dealer”
In logic, among the niftier ways of proving a theorem (such as Godel’s first incompleteness theorem) is to assume it is false and then demonstrate a contradiction, and that’s what we’ll show, with three steps of logic.
Some things are known to be true but unprovable
But first, let’s meet the players, starting with the convicted and incarcerated drug dealer:
Any fool who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding,
And buried with a stake of holly through his heart
A heartless Scrooge wants to give his ex-wife [Not in law, see below – Ed.] a lump of coal for Christmas — by booting her and their kids from a rent-stabilized Brooklyn apartment.
Convicted drug dealer Ahmed Elgheur is currently locked up and facing deportation for immigration fraud.
Mr. Elgheur doesn’t actually own the apartment; rather, he established a rent stabilized tenancy (RST), and though everyone involved wants to pretend it isn’t an ownership interest, in fact it is, because over the decades of rent control and rent stabilization’s tortuous and illogical history, the RST has become a property right.
But before he gets tossed back to Morocco, he is trying to get ex-wife Bajia Elmourabit evicted from her $1,140-a-month, three-bedroom home so his young girlfriend can move in.
Bajia Elmourabit and her children are facing eviction by her jailed ex-husband from their apartment on Ocean Parkway.
Elmourabit’s housing nightmare began last year, when she got an eviction notice from “Mancini.”
Elmourabit, who also has a 10-month-old son with another man –
We’ll set in abeyance the postulate of morality that somehow an ex-wife, who is living with another man by whom she has had a child, is more deserving of the ex-husband’s benefice than the woman now his girlfriend.
– said her first reaction was: “Is he crazy? There’s no way he can throw us out.”
Does Mr. Elgheur have the right to evict Ms. Elmourabit?
Evidently he does:
Housing Court Judge Bruce Scheckowitz … issued an order saying Elmourabit would be evicted — unless she could get Family Court to say otherwise.
Smiling at the law, if not at the client or his lawyer
For Judge Scheckowitz to reach this finding, he must have determined as a matter of law that Mr. Elgheur has an ownership interest in the apartment, since the only person who can evict is the owner.
1. If rent stabilization is valid, then a rent stabilized tenancy (RST) is an ownership interest
Aside from the right of eviction, found by the judge as we just deduced, a Rent Stabilized Tenancy (RST) has many of the classical attributes of homeownership:
Arthur Friedman lived in the same rent-stabilized apartment for 29 years
- It grants security of tenure. Tenants have the unilateral right to renew their leases, landlord objections notwithstanding.
- It has economic value; if not, the parties at interest wouldn’t be fighting over it.
The economic value is substantial:
And in Manhattan, the price gap between a rent-stabilized and a market-rate unit has never been greater, according to a study released this spring by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University.
Even before the spike in market-rate rents over the past year, rent-stabilized rates were, on average, $1,245 a month cheaper.
Obviously that’s worth fighting over.
- It provides controllable occupancy cost, because
- It is legally established by contract and protected by law.
- It can be inherited, and hence it can be sold. A rent stabilized tenant can sublet to another tenant, and can demand payment for that sublet, whether as key money or disguised as something else.
Remarkably, the RST ownership interest so conferred is valid even if there was fraud at inception, as there was in this case:
Elgheur, 47, used an alias to sign the lease on the Ocean Parkway pad almost 20 years ago.
Do I look like an owner to you? Ahmed Elgheur, presumably many years ago
My faith in human nature is shattered – can you imagine that someone who dealt drugs for a living was duplicitous in a lease application?
He and Elmourabit had two children — a son, now 19, and a daughter, 17 — before he abandoned the family after being busted for selling heroin and jumping bail.
Perhaps Mr. Elgheur was fleeing to protect his baby mother and her children.
He won’t be needing an apartment for a while
Elgheur eventually surrendered and served more than six years in prison for two federal drug raps.
That the tenancy survived Mr. Elgheur’s flight, capture, conviction and incarceration is further proof that it’s an ownership interest like any other.
2. If an RST is an ownership interest, then it has an owner
Meanwhile, Elmourabit, 47, raised the kids on her own and made a living running a since-closed Moroccan restaurant on Prospect Park West.
If we are to take sides on morality, as opposed to the law, we should introduce two testimonials for Ms. Elmourabit, in the Post’s comments section, from people who signed their name.
Signed ones are better
Let’s start a petition, I’ve known this lady and her children since I was a child and this simply isn’t right. I’ll be the first to sign.
This is my neighbor- it is not a subsidized rental. I’ve known this mother for 17 years, to be extremely hard working- she is not ‘riding for free on taxpayers dollars’.
[I've reorganized Ms. Kramme's comments, which she evidently wrote in the heat of the moment and without regard for editing, so as to convey the elements of her logic. – Ed.]
What my concerns are is that her children live here, they go to schools here, this is their home, as well as hers and her husband’s new baby.
If cases were decided on sympathy alone, Ms. Elmourabit would have my vote.
It’s sympathetic but it’s not the law
Her paying rent these 20yrs does give her (should) leverage and there is such a thing as rental inheritance.
Ms. Kramme’s phrasing shows that she too thinks the RST is property that can be owned.
[They] should be able to continue to do so without living with a known convict-
No tenant here wants a criminal of that magnitude here, running whatever ‘business’ out of this building near our children. Aside from that, this criminal’s means of getting a girlfriend to engage in the process of evicting her while she was pregnant and in turn attempting to put her out of her home after 20 years of doing nothing to help raise, or support his own children is just twisted- and to what? Get a girlfriend, not a wife, in there and initially the attempt was to evict his own kids as well?
All that evidence is emotive but irrelevant to the legal issues.
She renewed the lease every two years, signing her own name at the bottom, and paying the rent on her own for 17 years without any child support.
But her ex-husband’s alias — “Gerome Mancini” — stayed at the top of the rental agreement.
As we saw above, his using an alias didn’t disqualify him from securing the RST, and once it’s owned, a repetition of the alias (by the way, is it fraud?) doesn’t disqualify his ownership. He still owns it until someone else acquires ownership.
Ms. Elmourabit could have sought ownership by having the lease name changed. Perhaps that was a simple oversight. Or perhaps she feared that if she drew attention to the change of renter, she might not have a legal RST. It was safer to rely on Mr. Elgheur’s ownership than the landlord’s.
3. If the RST is owned, its owner can decide who gets it after him
Meanwhile, Elgehur’s girlfriend, Cindy Comoli, 27, allegedly sent Elmourabit a text offering to drop the eviction proceedings in exchange for cash.
The overture is entirely plausible, and represents yet another person who believes that the RST is an ownership interest.
You only pay when you’re buying something with your money
“His legal fees for his attorney paid (I don’t know the amount) and $20k for the apartment paid in one full payment and it is yours,” the message read.
As mentioned above, ‘key money’ transactions have a dubious legality, which explains this:
Comoli denied sending the text and accused Elmourabit of demanding $150,000 to leave voluntarily.
Though the $150,000 claim is extremely implausible, if Mr. Elgheur owned the RST, perhaps Ms. Elmourabit had an inalienable right to ‘inherit’ it, notwithstanding that he is very much alive, on a theory of spousal succession. There was just one problem – she wasn’t his wife, at least not in law.
But when she went to Housing Court, her ex-hubby’s lawyer, Michael Cheatham, argued that the couple was never legally married — despite signed, Islamic wedding documents — and that Elmourabit was simply Elgheur’s “subtenant.”
Your Honor, she was just a subtenant: Michael Cheatham
In terms of real estate, marriage is a contract sanctified not by God but by the law (and priests, rabbis, and others are deputized as officers of the law).
Elmourabit said that she couldn’t get a Family Court judge to take the case and that when she went back to Housing Court, Scheckowitz upheld his ruling.
Even if she’s still his wife, he’s not dead, and in the divorce settlement, the RST property has stayed with him.
Elmourabit’s lawyer, Jalila Bell, accused the judge of “passing the buck” and “not listening to the law.”
One doesn’t listen to the law; one reads it.
“It’s not her apartment,” Cheatham told The Post. “The lease is not in her name.”
That being so, then there are only two possible outcomes:
Take the blue pill and believe … whatever you want to believe
A. Mr. Elgheur is still the tenant of record, in which case the RST is his to transfer (via sublease or otherwise), as reported in the Post’s update from the next day (December 18, 2012):
A Brooklyn Housing Court judge yesterday slammed a coldhearted Grinch who is trying to get his ex-wife and their kids evicted from their apartment, even though the jerk can’t live there himself.
“If he doesn’t have the ability to return, why shouldn’t the kids be able to live there?” thundered Judge Bruce Scheckowitz. “Because he doesn’t want the ex-wife in there. That’s what this is all about.”
“I’ve never hidden that fact from you, your honor,” said Michael Cheatham.
But if Mr. Elgheur is the owner, then he is not required to be nice.
B. No one has a valid RST, which would undoubtedly please the landlord no end.
And that’s the final piece of evidence that an RST is a property interest – in the dispute about who is entitled to occupy a desirable rent-stabilized apartment, the landlord is never called upon. Could there be any better proof an RST is ownership?
“So, who’s right here?”
Who’s right here?
If you want to conclude that Ms. Elmourabit has the ‘rights’ to the apartment, then you have to find it’s a rental. You can’t conclude that it’s ownership and take it from Mr. Elgheur without a judicial forfeiture.
Elmourabit is now mounting a last-ditch appeal, arguing that a father can’t evict his children and that their 19-year-old son should inherit the lease.
Just don’t drive your chariot my way, dad
In logic, among the niftier ways of proving a theorem (such as Godel’s first incompleteness theorem) is to assume it is false and then demonstrate a contradiction.
Elmourabit can’t understand why she might be forced out, even though she paid the rent alone for years while her ex was in prison.
It’s called “rent,” and though an RST is property, it doesn’t have the equity buildup of a mortgage and ownership.
“He’s getting deported. Why are we still here?” she said outside court. “What kind of law is this? The judge should have dismissed it just now.”
It’s called ‘the law,’ and if you think it’s grossly unfair, then you are concluding that an RST isn’t a property right, and if you think that, then you must conclude that rent stabilization is morally invalid.
Logic? The hell with logic!
Both sides will be back in court January 10.