A family who were unlawfully evicted from their Sunset Park apartment nine years ago are to receive $275,000 after a settlement was reached with their former landlord during a trial in January.
The Solis family of five, who initially sought just $2,500 for the emotional distress caused by the 2014 eviction, took the action over a series of “demeaning, harassing, threatening, and unlawful conduct” by their former landlords which resulted in the family’s belongings being left on the street in garbage bags days before their eviction notice period was up.
Prior to the eviction, Richard and Bellanira Solis had lived in the basement apartment of the property located at 436 46th Street with their three children Concepcion, Octavio and Richard Jr. — then ages 4, 14 and 15.
For the previous three years, they rented as sub-tenants to the first-floor tenant with whom they shared a kitchen and bathroom. The Solis family did not have a lease but were given a letter dated Aug. 16 2011 confirming they were tenants.
The property’s landlords – Nora Aguilar, Francisco Aguilar, Jose Aguilar and Vilma Luque – asked the first-floor tenant and the Solis family to vacate the apartments in early February 2014 so that they could renovate the apartments and give them to a family member.
The family agreed to leave the apartment but were having trouble finding alternative accommodation and were unable to leave the apartment right away.
According to testimony from the Solis family, the landlords allegedly tried to force out them out by removing doors, knocking down walls, and turning off the gas and electricity.
The landlords also allegedly called the Administration of Child Services to make an anonymous complaint about there being a child living in unsanitary conditions on the property as well as bringing unfounded complaints to the local police department about squatters living in the basement.
The physical eviction took place only three days after a ten day notice to quit had been taped on the Solis family’s door, according to the family.
After finding their belongings on the street, the Solis’ turned to their neighbor Paul Edelstein who took them into his home and allowed them to live there for a few weeks until they found a new apartment.
Edelstein, one of the attorneys from Edelsteins Faegenburg, and Brown who represented the Solis family in this case, told Brooklyn Paper that the family did not originally want to take any action because they were immigrants from Nicaragua who were “not looking for trouble.”
Unhappy with how the Solis’ had been treated, Edelstein said he sought redress of $2,500 via the landlord’s lawyers but the back and forth was fruitless as they maintained that the Solis’ had left voluntarily, refusing to pay.
With the help of Edelstein, the Solis family filed a lawsuit against their former landlord in July 2014 alleging that their actions constituted wrongful evictions.
Prior to trial, defense counsel moved to dismiss the case in its entirety, arguing that the Solis family, as sub-tenants, had no legal basis to recover for wrongful eviction. Defense counsel also argued that the Solis family had not sustained actual damages.
The Solis family testified that as a result of the “extreme and outrageous conduct” of the defendants, they suffered emotional distress which manifested in depression, anxiety, loss of sleep, nightmares, and Ms. Solis suffering stress related post-surgical complications.
Following a lengthy appeal process, the family increased their damages claim to $25,000.
The case proceeded to trial at Kings County Supreme Court where the defense council tried and failed to have Edelstein’s firm disqualified from representing the family based on a conflict of interest and also to have Edelstein precluded from testifying as a witness.
On January 6, after opening statements had taken place, both parties agreed to a settlement of $275,000 – $250,000 more than the amount sought prior to the appeal.
The eldest son of Solis family, Richard Jr, said he remembers that “tough situation” vividly despite his parents best efforts to shield him and his siblings from it.
“We managed to just stay as stable as the situation could have allowed, we never broke down. We just made it as normal as we could,” he said.
Richard Jr added the settlement came as a shock to the whole family but that it was most “welcome after everything they’ve been through”.
On his decision to take on the Solis family’s case, Edelstein told Brooklyn Paper that he set out to right a wrong but that the case “stands for something bigger now”.
“You have two groups of people here, you have landlords, some not doing the right thing and getting away with it. And then you have a lot of tenants many of whom are indigent, or don’t speak the language, or are not citizens, and they’re getting taken advantage of. They don’t realise what the laws are or that they have some protection, and that they can do something about it.”