The mayor today signed into law a bill that gives broader powers to tenants to challenge their landlords in cases of harassment, making it easier to bring claims in housing court.
The bill, which was opposed by the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlords group, comes as housing advocates say tenants are being harassed throughout the city at extraordinary levels in an effort to clear them out of rent-regulated apartments. Given the widening gap between rent-regulated rents and market-rate rents, especially in neighborhoods such as Harlem, landlords have more incentive than in the past to fetch the higher rents.
The Rent Stabilization Association has contended that the bill will clog the court system with frivolous complaints.
Release from the Bloomberg administration below:
MAYOR BLOOMBERG SIGNS LEGISLATION ESTABLISHING PENALTIES FOR TENANT HARASSMENT
Remarks by Mayor Bloomberg at a Public Hearing on Local Laws
“The next bill before me is Introductory Number 627-A, sponsored by Speaker Quinn and Council Members Garodnick, Mark-Viverito, James, Comrie, Mendez, Jackson, Lappin, Gerson, Palma, Liu, Brewer, Yassky, Recchia, Gioia, de Blasio, Eugene, Addabbo, Gentile, Gonzalez, Koppell, Monserrate, Sanders, Sears, Stewart, Martinez, Arroyo, Foster, Vann, Baez, Mealy, Avella, Barron, White, Gennaro and The Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.
“Introductory Number 627-A addresses a variety of unacceptable and improper practices by landlords whose actions, either willingly or inadvertently, cause lawful tenants to vacate their homes. This practice, commonly referred to as tenant harassment, is often aimed at residents in multiple-unit dwellings in an effort to compel them to vacate their homes, so that owners may then make improvements to the apartments and re-rent them for much higher rents than previous tenants paid.
“While we believe that the vast majority of landlords throughout the City are responsible and do not engage in tenant harassment, we can not turn our backs on the bad actors who participate in such behavior. Introductory Number 627-A carefully and clearly defines harassment and prohibits an owner from engaging in such actions. The bill makes any harassment action a Class C (immediately hazardous) violation of the Housing Maintenance Code, which carries a penalty ranging between $1,000 and $5,000 per unit. This bill also empowers tenants so that they may be able to bring a claim of harassment in housing court and enables the court to issue restraining orders against owners if violations have been found. This bill takes into account owners’ rights as well, enabling them to prove that acts were not intended to cause an occupant to vacate and that the owner has acted in good faith. Lastly, it gives the court the discretion to award attorney fees to the owners if the tenant’s harassment claim is found to be frivolous.
“As our City continues to grow, preserving housing – and especially affordable housing – will remain a priority of my Administration. Introductory Number 627-A takes us a step in the right direction by ensuring that tenants in such housing – and in all housing throughout the City – are protected.
“I would like to thank Department of Housing and Preservation and Development Commissioner Shaun Donovan and his staff for their work on this bill. I would also like to thank Speaker Quinn for her leadership and the Council for approving this legislation.”