City and state officials have founded a task force with the sole purpose of protecting tenants from landlords who bully and harass them in an effort to pressure them into giving up their rent-stablized apartment to higher-paying tenants.
The Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force will be responsible from investigating complaints from tenants that landlords are using certain techniques to force tenants out. The task force will be given the authority to take action on behalf of the tenant and possibly to pursue criminal charges.
Tenant harassment may include (but is not limited to):
- Intentional denial of services or repairs
- Yelling, issuing threats or name-calling
- Physical intimidation or violence
- Taking tenants to court again and again without good reason
- Entering an apartment in a non-emergency without notifying tenant in advance
- Conducting disruptive and potentially dangerous repairs that aren’t necessary
Previously, all tenant harassment complaints handled by the city were funneled through the Housing Court. Those filings almost doubled between 2011 to 2014, from 435 to nearly 815.
Also in 2014, the New York State Attorney General’s Office launched a total of 10 investigations into alleged tenant harassment. That was more than triple the number generated the year before. Just in the last year-and–half, the office has received an estimated 200 tenant harassment complaints.
The vast majority of these complaints are rooted in the same purported cause: That landlords are harassing tenants to push them out of apartments that are affordable so those renters can be replaced with higher-paying tenants.
Formulation of this task force is an unprecedented collaboration between government agencies. Mayor Bill de Blasio promised criminal charges would be “aggressively” pursued against landlords when the situation warrants it.
In the past, De Blasio said, there had been a tendency within certain regulatory agencies to simply allow repeat offender landlords, or those who had committed particularly egregious violations, to simply skate by with a greatly reduced fine upon negotiation.
Tenants who have endured extreme disrepair, apartments with no heat in the dead of winter or sometimes blatant scare tactics and aggression, say it simply isn’t worth the fight and give up and move out.
Now, the task force will allow for a more comprehensive approach from several disciplines. The timing was especially important, De Blasio said, because the market is continuing an upward trajectory with no signs of slowing, meaning landlords have increasing incentive to take action.
De Blasio said in some cases, landlords are hiring armed thugs to harass tenants. In other cases, they block entrances, fail to fix collapsed ceilings and allow mold to grow rampant and rodents to go unchecked.
The mayor promised such actions would not go unpunished, and indicated the penalties would be severe.
Tenants who are feeling pressured to leave should contact an experienced attorney who can advise them of their rights.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.
New York City and State Officials Joining Forces to Combat Tenant Harassment, Feb. 19, 2015, By Nikita Stewart, The New York Times
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New York Landlord-Tenant Dispute: No Heat Leaves Residents Heated, Jan. 25, 2015, New York City Tenant Lawyer Blog