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Forest Hills apartment dispute settled in Jamaica housing court

For Terianne Cooperman, the cyclic nightmare consists of forever leaking faucets, peeling bathtubs, broken stoves and termite-infested cabinets.For her landlord, Daniel Perla, it features a perpetually nitpicking tenant, unpaid rent and unwanted publicity.Such tenant-landlord wars have no doubt been raging since before the dawn of the gas bill. At 72-10 112th St. in Forest Hills, one such dispute has left the tenant with an uninhabitable apartment and the landlord steeped in legal fees.Now, after years of wrangling, both are looking to settle the score, not through name-calling - though there is still plenty of that - but through a court settlement.Lawyers from both sides say Perla has agreed to fix up Cooperman's rent-stabilized, third-floor apartment using reputable contractors, while Cooperman has consented to paying a majority of her $4,000 in back rent."I'm not going to kid myself into thinking they'll be sending each other Christmas cards," said Thomas Higgins, attorney for Perla, who owns 23 of the building's 66 apartments, including Cooperman's. "But hopefully when both have done what they've agreed to do, this thing can finally end."Although the relationship had been sour for some time, things between Cooperman and Perla turned downright ugly in May when Cooperman stopped paying rent until the repairs were done.Then in November the strife reached boiling point when painters, who apparently were not getting paid by their contractor, abruptly walked out on Cooperman in mid-job, leaving her spacious four-room apartment with blotchy, unfinished walls, paint-spattered floors and nicked furniture piled in the center of the living room covered in plastic. Four months later, half-filled buckets of paint still sit on the floor. As a result, Cooperman has been squatting on friends' couches and eating out every night "like a gypsy," she said, and has by now outworn her welcome."I'm here 30 years and I never withheld rent," said Cooperman, who pays around $400 monthly. "This is an act of desperation."While acknowledging that the apartment's condition was "atrocious," Perla insisted he tried to get a cleaning crew there to prepare the place for another round of painting. But as with previous attempts to do repairs, he said he was blocked by Cooperman, whom he claims resists allowing workers inside and when she does "is so on their backs that they can't take it and leave.""She doesn't care about the work, she cares about not paying her rent," said Perla, adding that he has no such problems with his other 22 apartments. Cooperman has said those tenants are too afraid to speak up. The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development Web site lists 54 open violations on the Perla's building since 1988, virtually all deriving from Cooperman's apartment. Violations are normally issued upon complaint from a tenant.Perla eventually served Cooperman with an eviction notice, which the tenant then took to court."For every dollar I'd spend on repairs I'm spending two on a lawyer to gain access to her apartment to do them," a frustrated Perla said. On Feb. 15 in Jamaica's Housing Court, a settlement was arranged. Perla would draw up a schedule and begin with repairs probably starting this week, Higgins said. In return, Cooperman would pay $2,500 of the $4,000 she owes in rent and refrain from harassing the laborers.Praise for the settlement was tepid at best. Cooperman said some of the repairs like replacing an outlet and her Venetian blinds would not be done. And she and her pro-bono lawyer, Rob McCreanor, still see Perla as trying to push a rent-stabilized tenant out the door."She is generating very minimal revenue so the landlord has an incentive to get her out," McCreanor said. "He's by no means a great landlord."Higgins, however, sees Cooperman as just another example of a long history of such disputes."As they get older some people take up knitting, some take up golf," he said, "and some take up fighting with their landlords."Reach reporter Zach Patberg at news@timesledger.com or at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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