October 12, 2016

Sung Cho owns and operates Super Laundromat and Drycleaners, one of the largest laundromats in Manhattan. Rows of gleaming stainless-steel machines fill the facility, which is open 24 hours a day and kept spotless by Sung and his employees.

Sung came to America in 1981, and he opened his laundromat in 2008 in Inwood, near the northern tip of Manhattan. The business prospered, allowing Sung to put three kids through college.

Twice in 2013, undercover NYPD officers came to the laundromat and offered to sell stolen electronics. Both times, someone allegedly took the bait: The first purchaser was an individual totally unknown to Sung, and the second was a son of a friend. Neither Sung nor his employees were involved in any way.

Seven months passed after the second of these incidents, and then, without any warning, Sung found a brightly colored notice on the window of his laundromat informing him that he was the target of a no-fault eviction action. Sung had just days to prepare for a hearing—scheduled for Christmas Eve—where he would have to convince a judge that his business should not be closed.

Worse, when Sung finally found a lawyer willing to take the case on such short notice during the holiday season, he learned that innocence was no defense under the city’s ordinance. Sung could be evicted, and his business closed, simply because his business was the site of a crime. The identity of the criminals was beside the point.

City attorneys, however, made clear that so long as Sung signed an agreement waiving various constitutional rights, they would not shut down the laundromat. Under the agreement, Sung was forced to: (i) allow police to conduct warrantless searches of his business, (ii) provide police unfettered access to his video surveillance system, and (iii) consent to future fines and sanctions for alleged criminal offenses without any need for a hearing before a judge.

The agreement proposed by the city would waive not only Sung’s rights, but also the rights of other people. If Sung sold his business, the agreement would bind the new owners as well.

Despite the agreement’s onerous terms, Sung found he had no choice. Reluctantly, and only to save the laundromat, Sung agreed to sign.