Given the steadily rising costs of attorneys’ fees, it is not surprising that the awarding of fees has recently been the focus of numerous judicial opinions. In fact, earlier this year, the New York Court of Appeals handed down two decisions on the same day regarding prevailing parties and awards for attorneys’ fees: one which awarded attorneys’ fees, the other which denied them.
In Graham Court Owner’s Corp v. v. Taylor, 24 N.Y.3d 742, 5 N.Y.S.2d 348 (2015), the Court held that a tenant was entitled to recover attorneys’ fees after prevailing in his defense of the landlord’s holdover proceeding under Real Property Law Section 234. Under this statute, where a residential lease allows a landlord to recover attorneys’ fees resulting from the tenant’s breach of the lease, the tenant is given a reciprocal right to seek fees incurred as a result of the landlord’s breach of the lease or the tenant’s successful defense of a proceeding commenced by the landlord. Specifically, Section 234 provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
Whenever a lease of residential property shall provide that in any action or summary proceeding the landlord may recover attorneys’ fees and/or expenses incurred as the result of the failure of the tenant to perform an covenant or agreement contained in such lease … there shall be implied in such lease a covenant by the landlord to pay to the tenant the reasonable attorneys’ fees and/or expenses incurred by the tenant as the result of the failure of the landlord to perform any covenant or agreement on its part to be performed under the lease or in the successful defense of any action or summary proceeding commenced by the landlord against the tenant arising out of the lease.