Attorney Jack Lester Helping OLA Help Renters Wronged By Landlords - 27 East

Real Estate News

Real Estate News / 1559784

Attorney Jack Lester Helping OLA Help Renters Wronged By Landlords

icon 2 Photos
Jack Lester, Esquire, outside the OLA office in East Hampton. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Jack Lester, Esquire, outside the OLA office in East Hampton. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Jack Lester, Esquire, outside the OLA office in East Hampton. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Jack Lester, Esquire, outside the OLA office in East Hampton. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Brendan J. OReilly on Nov 6, 2019

For renters on the South Fork who feel that they have been mistreated by their landlords but believe there is nothing they can do about it, the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island has partnered with a veteran attorney who wants them to know that they do have rights they can assert without fear.

Jack L. Lester, Esq., is a sole practitioner in Manhattan who, since graduating from New York Law School in 1977, has amassed more than 40 years of experience in real estate litigation, including zoning, environmental and landlord-tenant disputes — always working on the tenant side.

For the past 10 years, he has had a second home in Springs, and now he aims to give back to the local community by offering free legal advice concerning housing to those in need.

To that end, OLA hosted “Tenants, Know Your Rights,” a live-streamed seminar in English and Spanish, with Mr. Lester and OLA general counsel Andrew Strong on October 20 to explain the expanded rights that renters have to habitable living conditions under the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law on June 14. Mr. Lester is now making himself available Friday afternoons at the new OLA office in East Hampton Village for appointments to offer advice, pro bono.

During an interview at the OLA office this month, Mr. Lester called the state housing reform adopted in June “landmark legislation” that expanded tenants’ rights substantially. “It was excellent — long overdue,” he added.

He said he felt that he could be effective, given his decades of experience representing tenants, to resolve some of the issues that OLA brought to his attention.

As he begins to familiarize himself with prominent issues on the East End, he said, excessive security deposits stand out. He noted that, under this housing reform, landlords can no longer demand more than one month’s security as a deposit or advance.

Mr. Lester said he understands that it’s been a common practice on the South Fork for landlords to demand security deposits of more than one month’s rent — sometimes much more.

“The law is clear that a landlord is only permitted to ask for only one month’s security deposit,” he said. “Now I understand here that some landlords ask for five or six months, in some cases.”

He called it an abusive practice. “It’s going to take some investigation,” he said. “It’s going to take some enforcement.”

Another prevalent problem, according to Mr. Lester, is landlords offering tenants a year-round rental, but then telling the tenants, without proper notice, to pick up and leave for the summer.

He also wants tenants to know that, under housing reform, landlords can be subject to immediate arrest for locking out a tenant without a court proceeding first, even if there was 30 days notice: “If a landlord does that, that is a criminal offense under the new law.” It was previously, a violation and police had treated it as a civil issue, he explained, but tenants often cannot afford an attorney and would have no place to live for weeks during a civil case.

Even if tenants have a month-to-month arrangement rather than a lease, they are entitled to 30 days notice, Mr. Lester said. And if the notice comes after the first of the month, the 30-day period doesn’t begin until the first of the next month.

Some people don’t understand that they still have rights even if they don’t have a lease, so the landlord seeks to terminate their tenancy without any notice, he said, adding, “That’s the abuse that we want to prevent.”

Courts have the discretion to extend tenancy by up to six months if the tenant can demonstrate hardship, such as having no alternative place to live or having a child in school, Mr. Lester noted. Also, tenants have the right to inspect homes both when moving in and moving out, and the right to be protected from retaliation if they file a complaint.

“The law, again, says that if you filed a complaint, and the landlord refuses to renew, the presumption is that the landlord is retaliating, and therefore the lease must renew for another year,” Mr. Lester said. “That’s part of the retaliatory eviction statute. So a landlord cannot refuse to renew your lease because you filed a complaint.”

It’s not just tenants who Mr. Lester wants to educate. He said he is urging OLA to talk to town justices and local police forces to ensure they are aware of and enforcing the new law.

“To me, as a practitioner for 40 years, you get frustrated when you see that laws are on the books and they’re not put into practice,” he said. “So that’s kind of a motivator for me. It’s probably not going to make me popular out here, but that’s the other beauty of doing what I’m doing: I don’t need to be popular.”

He doesn’t have clients on the East End to lose and he’s not running for office, which gives him utter freedom, he said.

Mr. Lester’s relationship with OLA began after the nonprofit’s executive director, Minerva Perez, was a guest speaker in August at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, which Mr. Lester attends.

Hearing from Ms. Perez about the issues that the immigrant community on the East End faces, he felt motivated to get involved and offer his experience, he said.

“She talked about a community in need,” Mr. Lester recalled. “And I’ve been living here 10 years — and you don’t really see the community. I mean, you see them working on people’s lawns and painting houses and working in restaurants, but who’s helping this population? It looked to me like something I’d like to do. I spoke with Minerva about it, and we’re getting the wheels in motion.”

Mr. Lester, 66, is a lifelong resident of Manhattan, excepting a few years when he lived in Albany and founded the student legal services program for the State University of New York. The program represented students in landlord-tenant disputes and also helped on financial aid, consumer and academic issues, as well as with arrests. “A panoply of things,” he said.

It was that program that gave him the idea to help OLA fashion a program to provide legal services.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Lester has litigated a dozen cases to the State Court of Appeals concerning community rights in terms of proper development. He litigated the Van Cortlandt Park case, which led to a law on parkland alienation that requires state action before a municipality may give up or sell parkland, and a case involving Toys “R” Us that protected the right of a community to prevent nonconforming manufacturing and commercial uses in residential communities.

He also worked on the case that gave students the right to vote where they attend college.

Mr. Lester said the primary message that he hoped to get across during OLA’s seminar last month was: “Don’t be afraid to assert your rights.” People may think they could lose their lease and their place to live if they do. “Wrong. You assert your rights, the law now protects you. The question is, who is going to stand up for them so that they can assert their rights? And that’s why I see a need for an organization like OLA to provide access to justice.”

Ms. Perez explained that through OLA’s intake process some people with landlord-tenant issues may be offered simple answers or a referral and others will have their more complicated problems forwarded to Mr. Lester for his consideration. He may share advice through OLA, or he may determine that a situation merits a face-to-face meeting. If a case goes to court, Mr. Lester may even appear on behalf of the tenant.

High-priority cases, according to Ms. Perez, would include situations concerning health and safety, such as a landlord threatening to turn off the heat, and situations in which tenants with children may be evicted or in which landlords threaten to call immigration authorities or child protective services. Some landlords will use the police as a billy club, “which the police do not like,” she added.

Sometimes, she said, all it takes to resolve an issue is a letter from OLA to the landlords letting them know that the tenants have support.

Ms. Perez said making landlords more accountable on the East End may help address the lack of affordable housing.

“Ultimately, if landlords are doing the right thing and doing it in a fair way, it might start balancing out some of the playing field as well,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s going to bring the prices down, necessarily, but if people have to play the fair way, it certainly couldn’t hurt.”

She added that, being that Mr. Lester’s time is limited, she is hoping OLA can enlist more attorneys to offer this kind of help to tenants in a pro bono or “low bono” capacity.

OLA is located at the intersection of Newtown Lane and Main Street, above Halstead Property. For more information, call OLA at 631-899-3441.

You May Also Like:

Abraham Baker House In East Hampton Sells For $1.6 Million

The circa-1745 Abraham Baker House, once the home of the Riding Club of East Hampton, ... 14 Sep 2021 by Staff Writer

West Water Street Condo Sells For $15 Million

One of Sag Harbor’s three West Water Street condos by developer Jay Bialsky has sold ... by Staff Writer

Myths And Realities About Community Housing

The need for affordable community housing is a fact of life in most communities across the country, certainly in every village and town on the East End of Long Island. Yet myths, fear, prejudice and misunderstanding often cloud the debate. To give a little perspective to the conversation, here are seven affordable housing myths and realities, adapted from “Busted: Seven Myths About Affordable Housing” by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity on February 18, 2020. MYTH No. 1: Affordable housing isn’t for local people REALITY: There are thousands of local residents on affordable housing waiting lists on the East End, and ... 8 Sep 2021 by MICHAEL DALY

Middle Lane Traditional Sells For $9.5 Million

An East Hampton Village traditional with light-filled, modern living spaces recently sold for its full ... 7 Sep 2021 by Staff Writer

Seashell Real Estate Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Seashell Real Estate in Southampton is celebrating its 40th anniversary Principal broker and owner Joan Tutt established the company in 1981 and is joined by her daughter, associate broker Lorell Tutt. They have 62 years of Hamptons real estate experience between them. Joan Tutt began Seashell Real Estate to serve the North Sea, Roses Grove, Deerfield and Water Mill areas. While other agencies were concentrated in Southampton Village, Ms. Tutt opened an office in North Sea on Middle Line Highway, which was a dirt road at the time. She has remained at the location for four decades. Ms. Tutt noted ... by Staff Writer

Governor Signs New Eviction And Foreclosure Moratorium

A new moratorium will protect tenants, landlords and homeowners in New York State from eviction ... 3 Sep 2021 by Brendan J. O’Reilly

Attorney Argues ARB’s Time To Review Demo Request For Jaffe House Is Up

The attorney for a homeowner seeking a demolition permit for his Meadow Lane residence, which ... 1 Sep 2021 by Brendan J. O’Reilly

Revisiting The CPF Is In Order

The preservation of open space, farmland and community character on the East End constituted the ... by Anne Surchin, R.A.

Community Preservation Fund Has Brought In $131M This Year Through July

The Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund has brought in $131.29 million in the first seven ... by Staff Writer

Plans For New Main House At Four Fountains Estate Rejected

The Southampton Village Board of Architectural Review & Historic Preservation rejected, 3-2, an application to build a “grand house” at 660 Halsey Neck Lane, the site of the famed estate Four Fountains. After multiple hearing dates where neighbors expressed their concerns with the size and height of the proposed residence, a board majority voted August 23 against the plan. Chairman Jeffrey Brodlieb and member Mark McIntire were in favor of the application, while Peter DeWitt, John Gregory and Sarah Latham voted against it. The applicants are Jessie Ding and Ning Jin, a couple who purchased the 7.5 acre compound for ... 31 Aug 2021 by Brendan J. O’Reilly

Welcome to our new website!

To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.

We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.

Start the Tour
Landscape view not supported
Send this to a friend