City Leaders Demand that Landlord Lobby Stop Trying to Undermine Tenant Protection Act

CITY HALL – Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Letitia James, joined tenants and housing advocates at a rally on the steps of City Hall to speak out against an unwarranted lawsuit brought on by the landlord lobby aimed at overturning the Tenant Protection Act. First mentioned in Quinn’s 2007 State of the City Address, Local Law No. 7 of 2008 created a new umbrella of protection for tenants who are being harassed by their landlords.

“Across our City, we are seeing the character of our neighborhoods changing as middle-class families are priced out of their communities for higher income tenants,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “The Tenant Protection Act was signed into law in part because we want families to feel protected from landlords who engage in harassment and keep families in the communities that make New York the greatest city in the world. We will fight any effort to take this law off the books.”

Prior to the passage of the Tenant Protection Act, tenants were limited to taking their landlord to Housing Court only for violations relating to the physical condition of the apartment or failure to provide essential services. For instance, if a unit lacked hot water for a prolonged duration, a tenant could take their landlord to court and get their hot water turned back on. However, if turning off the hot water was just the latest episode in a long period of repeated violations, the only recourse was to challenge the landlord on each and every violation.

Local Law No. 7 created a violation for harassment in and of itself, providing a new layer of protection for renters in New York City. Some of the actions that qualify as harassment under this legislation include: using force or making threats against a lawful occupant, repeated or prolonged interruptions of essential services, using frivolous court proceedings to disrupt a tenant’s life or force an eviction, removing the possessions of a lawful tenant, removing doors or damaging locks to a unit, or any other acts designed to disturb a lawful occupant’s residence. The law also prevents similar actions by third parties working on the landlord’s behalf.

Civil penalties for judicial findings of harassment range from $1,000 to $5,000.

The bill also responsibly balances protections for tenants with safeguards for landlords. If a landlord has three harassment allegations dismissed by judicial proceedings over a period of ten years, a tenant will then have to receive approval from a judge to file another harassment claim. Landlords may also qualify for a reimbursement of attorney’s fees if a claim is deemed to be frivolous.

“Tenants will not be intimidated by those landlords who will stop at nothing to remove lawful residents from their homes,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “The Tenant Protection Act offered renters historic new rights to peace, dignity and respect, and I am confident that those rights will remain intact.”

“When my colleagues and I passed Local Law Number 7 back in March, we were committed to helping the most vulnerable New York City tenants,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “For too long, our system did not provide adequate protection for tenants experiencing systematic harassment. It’s beyond my comprehension why anyone would want to take that away from tenants and this lawsuit being filed will allow for those unscrupulous landlords to continue their heinous acts.”

“The Tenant Protection Act is designed to protect defenseless residents from being arbitrarily ousted from their homes,” said Council Member Letitia James. “Instead of fighting us tooth and nail, landlords need to adhere to the law of the land – stop the harassment!”

“In recent years, we’ve seen a shocking level of harassment activity by landlords seeking to illegally remove tenants from affordable apartments,” said Irene Baldwin, Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, a member organization of 95 NYC neighborhood housing groups. “It’s been going on in neighborhoods all around the City, and this law was created to help tenants get relief from the more egregious abuses. The organized real estate lobby has relentlessly attacked and tried to undermine this very reasonable, moderate legislation from the start, showing us all how desperately needed it really is.”

“The Tenant Protection Act is important to me because I have faced a great deal of harassment: I was offered money to leave my apartment, and told I had to leave, said Ramona Santana, a tenant from the northwest Bronx, housing leader and NWBCCC Board Member. “The landlord had other tenants harass me by vandalizing our apartment. There are thousands of tenants facing this kind of harassment, and this law helps to protect us.”

“Our building manager has been abusing tenants for years – he even attacked one of my neighbors in the hallway,” said Vivian Riffelmacher, a tenant of the upper west side and member of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance. “The landlord is deliberately trying to get rent-stabilized tenants out of the building so they can rent to people who can pay more. We need this law so we can protect ourselves from that kind of abuse.”

“The Tenant Protection Act is the most effective weapon tenants have to address harassment by landlords,” said Joseph Ferdinand, a tenant of the northwest Bronx. “This law is vital to protect affordable housing in our neighborhoods, and to make sure landlords don’t evict us low-income tenants.”