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Diplomats Go Free – In Airports And Apartment Buildings

I’m sure by now you’ve read about that Qatari diplomat in flight from D.C. to Denver to visit a fellow citizen imprisoned for terrorism, who took a smoke, then joked he tried to set his shoes on fire. Even though the authorities called in the FBI, and fighter planes, he got off with barely a slap on the wrist.  But that poor chump who ducked under the security ropes at Newark Airport a few months back to give his girlfriend a goodbye kiss was arrested and ultimately pled to defiant trespass.

Why the different treatment?  Diplomatic immunity – that’s why. It’s not only a problem at airports, but also in apartment buildings all over the City that’s home to the United Nations. The foreign nationals who fall under its mantle are exempt from most of the laws that govern you and. me.  If we decide not to pay our maintenance, the board’s wrath will be upon us pretty soon, but if they reneg, there’s not a whole lot the building can do except appeal to their sense of fair play, which doesn’t necessarily work.

Just last month a judge in Islamabad, of all places, rejected a claim of diplomatic immunity, and ordered the Embassy of Austria to vacate a  home it had leased from the heirs of a prominent family, but not paid rent on for two years.

 Another landlord back here at home wasn’t so lucky, getting stuck a number of years back with $400,000 in rental arrears from the Mission of Zaire (Congo) based on its diplomatic immunity.

To avoid hassles like that, lots of boards just say, “No,” to selling or subleasing to the diplomatic set. Even though the law prohibits discrimination against buyers or tenants based on occupation, at least one court concluded that it was OK for a condo board to condition approval of a diplomat’s application to rent a unit on waiver of immunity. That’s not occupational discrimination, just a reasonable precaution to get paid.

Anyway, waivers can be tricky because usually the government, not the individual, has to do the waiving. And to make maters more complicated, even if the waiver is valid, it might apply only to recovery of money judgments, not efforts to evict the resident  slacker because under what’s known as “inviolability” landlords can’t enter diplomatic mission premises or private residences of diplomats without their country’s consent.

And even when the Mission of Chile had expressly waived the service of process requirements of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, it did an about face, saying the Act applied, hoping to get rid of a holdover proceeding brought by the landlord after its lease had expired. – a maneuver the court nixed.

Is there anything the board can do to allow in these high profilers while protecting you from their non-paying ways?  Most boards only admit diplomats if they provide protection money upfront in the form of a hefty security deposit or a guaranty by a local bank or a person who is subject to our laws and can be hauled into court to pay.  That seems fair to me. I figure if I have to pay my maintenance so should they.

For details, see:

  • Park Tower Holdings v. Board of Managers 500 Park Tower Condominium, NYLJ, Aug. 5, 1999, p.26, col.5 (Sup.  Ct. N.Y. Co.)
  • Stahl 3 Dag, LLC. v. The Permanent Mission of Chile to the U.N., 9 Misc.3d 946 (Civ. Ct. N.Y. Co. 2005)
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