Groundbreaking anti-tenant harassment legislation was targeted for repeal by the landlord lobby
City Hall – Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with Council Members Daniel R. Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito, tenants and activists, today applauded the State Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Tenant Protection Act. The bill, which was signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg in March of last year, was targeted for repeal in a lawsuit by the landlord lobby.
“Today is a great victory for all New York City tenants. The Tenant Protection Act was signed into law because we wanted to give families the power to confront a landlord that was engaging in a pattern of behavior designed to get them out of their homes,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Contrary to the assertions of the landlord lobby, this law is neither vague nor unnecessary. What you have with the Tenant Protection Act is a sensible legislative measure designed to help people take action against the reckless acts of the unscrupulous few. And thanks to the State Supreme Court, this law will continue to help those who need it for years to come.”
In her decision, the Honorable Eileen A. Rakower called the Tenant Protection act “a rational legislative response to what the City Council has determined is the potential for a growing problem of tenant harassment in New York City. The legislature is not required to wait for a deluge of harassment allegations to act. Rather, they may respond to even a single instance of financially motivated harassment, and seek to discourage the same by swift enactment of relevant legislation.”
“Our commitment to helping the most vulnerable New York City residents was the reason we worked so hard to enact the Tenant Protection Act,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “And now that the Court has ruled against the landlord lobby, tenants across the City know they have the power to put an end to disruptive and dangerous patterns of behavior.”
“The court has upheld what we knew to be true all along: Landlords have a legal and moral responsibility to treat their tenants with dignity,” said Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick. “This Council took historic action to give tenants the ability to fight back against a pattern of harassment, and now the bad actors out there must follow the law and stop trying to remove renters from their homes.”
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. To date, 538 cases have been filed under the law. Thus far, 158 orders to correct and 21 civil penalties have been issued.
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, the tenant who filed them 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.
“Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in signing the Tenant Protection Act into law last year, noted that it was a significant measure in meeting a priority of his Administration in protecting affordable housing for City tenants,” said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo of the New York City Law Department, whose office litigated the case on behalf of the City. “This court decision keeps that protection in place, and upholds an important tenant protection law.”
“The Supreme Court vindicated the right of New York City tenants to live free from harassment by their landlords,” said Ed Josephson, Legal Services NYC. “Thanks to Judge Rakower’s decision, tenants can continue to use the city anti-harassment law to protect themselves against landlords who refuse to make repairs or start baseless eviction cases against them.”
“Predatory Equity developers who use harassment as a business model should be on notice – New York City will not allow our affordable rental housing to be undermined and low and moderate-rent-paying tenants illegally forced out, said Benjamin Dulchin, Executive Director, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. “The Tenant Protection Act gives tenants the tool they need to fight back, and now the courts have upheld the legality of that tool. “
In the short time the law has been on the books, it has delivered results even in cases that were decided out of court. Below are examples of both the law’s usage and its effectiveness.
A COURT CASE IN QUEENS
In April of 2008, tenants filed a harassment suit against their landlord, Vantage Realty. The company, a private real estate corporation, has bought a number of rent-stabilized properties around the City. According to documents provided by representatives of the tenants, the landlord has actually asserted to the SEC that they can maintain a vacancy rate of 20 to 30%, a rate that is many times typical vacancy rates around the City. Once an apartment becomes vacant, its rent can be raised to market rates. Some of the allegations include baseless non-payment of rent lawsuits, not accepting checks due to minor differences between the name on the lease versus the name on the check (such as a middle initial), and false claims of non-residency.
“This is a victory for my neighbors and for me,” said Teresa Perez, President of the Vantage Tenants Council. “I joined this lawsuit because so many of us have experienced real harassment by our landlords and we need protection. The Queens Vantage Tenants Council is fighting to preserve affordable housing in the neighborhoods that we have lived in for decades. The Tenant Protection Act is a critical tool for us in this fight.”
“Today marks a great victory for New Yorkers,” said Council Member Helen Sears. “This legislation is part of our ongoing effort to keep our City affordable for working New Yorkers, and is an important step in the fight to preserve the kind of housing stock that will increase their quality life. I would like to thank Speaker Quinn for her leadership on this issue, and commend the New York State Supreme Court for reaching the right decision.”
RESULTS IN BROOKLYN
Since April of 2007, residents of 64 Troutman had 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.
As a result of the harassment charge and negative publicity, the landlord fired his management company and agreed to correct outstanding violations.
“I am sixty‑one years old and disabled,” said Daisy Terry, a 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 a year‑and‑a half my landlord made my life miserable. They ripped up the three vacant apartments in the building, leaving behind dust and rubble. They removed the staircase and put a ladder up in its place. And the heat and hot water was turned off. Since filing a case under the Tenant Protection Act, we have seen noticeable and immediate improvements to our building, and the heat is back on.”
“The harassment that the tenants of 64 Troutman endured was 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 problems, not frivolous law suits. And the fact that these residents have seen results proves that this law is effective and necessary.”