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Explanation and Significance of
Our FDCPA Case

As of 3/20/98

Our firm, whose specialty is housing law, collaborated with co-counsel Robert E. Sokolski, Esq., P.C., who specializes in consumer law, to create an innovative marriage of interests. In a nutshell, we took a federal consumer protection statute and sought its applicability to tenants rights.

The results of our work led to the victorious but controversial rulings in two federal lawsuits:
  • Romea v. Heiberger & Associates, 1998 WL 31873 (S.D.N.Y.)
  • Hairston v. Whitehorn & Delman, 1998 WL 35112 (S.D.N.Y.)

    The Romea and Hairston cases began as residential nonpayment proceedings. Our tenant clients received rent demands signed by their landlords' attorneys. In turn, they sued their landlords' attorneys in federal court under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The strict requirements of the FDCPA protect consumers against debt collectors who engage in unfair or abusive debt collection practices.

    Our unique legal arguments convinced both federal judges to rule that (1) rent is a debt under the FDCPA, and (2) attorneys who sign rent demands are debt collectors under the statute. The Romea case (pronounced row MAY)is currently on appeal to the Second Circuit. The Hairston case is stayed ("frozen") pending the outcome of Romea.

    We believe that housing is a human right, not a commodity to be bargained over. But since housing is treated as a commodity, then the consumers of that commodity (tenants) must be afforded the same protections as other consumers of other commodities. For centuries the balance of power has been inequitably skewed under property laws in favor of landlords (the lords of the land). We hope that our legal efforts will advance landlord-tenant relationships into the realm of consumer law and that our courtroom victories will significantly enhance the rights of tenants.

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