Local leaders support Brooklyn residents as they fight unimaginable living conditions and reiterate the absolute necessity of the Tenant Protection Act
CITY HALL – Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services and Council Members Daniel R. Garodnick, Diana Reyna, Melissa Mark Viverito and Letitia James, today stood with Brooklyn residents who are taking their landlord to housing court on a charge of harassment. The residents of 64 Troutman in Bushwick have filed a claim under the Tenant Protection Act, a new law enacted by the Council in March that created an umbrella of protection for tenants who are being harassed by their landlord.
The law has been targeted for repeal in an unwarranted lawsuit brought forward by the landlord lobby.
Since April of 2007, residents of 64 Troutman have been the victims of threats, intimidation and the discontinuance of essential services, such as heat and hot water. Even worse, the landlord has allowed people working on his behalf to defecate in the cellar, stack garbage in the three vacant apartments in the building, including a bag of rotting dead cats, remove the stairwell and perform extensive demolition work without a proper permit.
“If this was the only case of harassment in New York City, it would still speak to the absolute necessity of having the Tenant Protection Act on the books,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Not every landlord is trying to push tenants out of their homes. But cases like this are happening all over our City, and we must ensure wronged tenants have the right to confront their harassers in court and put an end to this reckless behavior.”
Prior to the passage of the Tenant Protection Act, individual 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 for an individual tenant was to challenge the landlord on each and every violation or file a complaint with the state Division of Housing and Community Development.
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 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.
“The harassment law that was passed by the City Council earlier this year is the only way that tenants like those at 64 Troutman can get relief for the kind of conduct they have experienced,” said Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services. “Before the harassment law, the rubric of City laws designed to protect tenants required landlords to keep their buildings in decent repair, but they did not give courts the power to direct landlords to stop harassing rent stabilized tenants into relinquishing their long time homes. We need this law in New York City so that tenants with affordable rents in gentrifying neighborhoods will have a chance to fight landlords who are trying to push them out of their homes, so that they can charge higher rents.”
“I have lived in my rent stabilized apartment for twenty seven years,” said Carolyn Jessup, a resident of 64 Troutman. “My mother lives across the hall from me. I do not intend to move. My trouble started a year and a half ago when my old landlord sold the building. Since then I’ve lived through being asked to move on a weekly basis, having the building torn down around me, having my staircase removed, having my heat and hot water shut off, and enduring a terrible smell that was found to come from a bag of dead cats someone had put in a vacant apartment in the building. We are living in rubble and though the City has tried to fix our apartments and keep essential services going, the landlord has tried to stop the City from making needed repairs. We have filed a harassment action hoping that the Court will stop our landlords from treating us this way, that we will finally get some repairs and, more importantly, some peace.”
“I am sixty one years old and disabled,” said Daisy Terry, another resident of the 64 Troutman. “I have lived in my rent stabilized apartment for twenty one years and I have no intention of moving. For the past year and a half my landlord has made my life miserable. They ripped up the three vacant apartments in the building and left the dust and rubble in the apartments. They removed the staircase and put a ladder up in its place. The heat and hot water have been turned off and, most recently, we got a notice that the electric would be shut down. No one deserves to live this way and I hope the law suit we brought will stop it.”
“The harassment that the tenants of 64 Troutman have endured is deplorable. We passed this law to provide recourse for tenants who are suffering serious intimidation and abuse,” said Council Member Diana Reyna, who represents the Bushwick residents. “These are real crimes, not frivolous law suits. My community is fed up, families are being victimized and we must keep this protection.”
“This case illustrates exactly why New Yorkers need the safeguards of the Tenant Protection Act,” said Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick. “Before the passage of that law, Daisy and Carolyn would have been powerless to defend themselves, even against these sorts of extreme tactics by their landlord.”
“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. “And when you hear stories like this, you understand just how important this bill is to so many people. While this is just one story out of Bushwick, there are many others like it across our City. It’s beyond explanation why anyone would want to take this right away from tenants.”
“Since the building located at 64 Troutman Street changed hands last year, a series of transgressions have occurred on the building owner’s part,” said Council Member Letitia James. “Harassment including the discontinuance of heat and hot water, as well as the accumulation of rotting garbage is deplorable and will not be tolerated under the Council’s watch, regardless of the owner’s supposed intentions.”
“Harassment of tenants has become an epidemic in every borough of the city as a new breed of unscrupulous landlords – known as predatory equity landlords – use illegal methods to push-out low-rent paying tenants,” said Margaret Chin, Board of Directors of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. “From lack of repairs and services, to frivolous legal cases, to outright threats, we are seeing more and more affordable housing fall victim to these unscrupulous landlords and their tactics. The Tenant Protection Act is an important tool to help tenants protect their rights.”