Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tenants Gain Right to Sue Landlords for Harassment

BP: How will this new bill affect co-ops and condos? Can tenants now more easily sue boards of directors? ALB says "yes, absolutely".

March 13, 2008, 4:14 pm
Tenants Gain Right to Sue Landlords for Harassment
By Manny Fernandez

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed a bill into law this afternoon giving tenants the right for the first time to sue their landlords in Housing Court for making threats against them, disrupting essential services and using other tactics that qualify as harassment to force them out of their apartments.

The City Council approved the new law last month with overwhelming support from tenant groups, housing advocates and legal aid lawyers who said landlord harassment of tenants had increased in recent years.

Previously, the city’s housing maintenance code had not classified harassment as a violation, so tenants were restricted in taking their landlords to Housing Court for problems with services or the physical condition of units. The law signed today makes harassment a housing code violation and entitles a judge to impose civil penalties for harassment from $1,000 to $5,000. It takes effect immediately.

“While we believe that the vast majority of landlords throughout the city are responsible and do not engage in tenant harassment, we cannot turn our backs on the bad actors who participate in such behavior,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a bill signing ceremony at City Hall.

Harassment is defined in the new law as the use of force or threats, repeated interruptions of essential services, the frequent filing of baseless court proceedings and other acts that “substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet” of any unit’s lawful occupant, the law states.

The law was opposed by the Rent Stabilization Association, a trade group representing 25,000 New York City property owners and managers.

Mitchell Posilkin, the association’s general counsel, disputed claims by the law’s supporters that tenant harassment was a widespread problem and said there already existed at least 10 laws that addressed tenant harassment, including the city’s Illegal Eviction Law, which dates to the early 1980s and makes it a misdemeanor for a property owner to use force or intimidation to evict a tenant.

“In light of all of the existing remedies that are available to tenants and in light of the failure of any of the bill’s supporters to document or establish any patterns of harassment in the City of New York or any systematic harassment, it leads one to question what the motives behind this legislation really are,” Mr. Posilkin said.

Tenant leaders, housing activists and City Council members, including the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, gathered on the steps of City Hall shortly before the mayor signed the bill to celebrate what they described as a much-needed new layer of protections for New Yorkers living in the city’s two million renter-occupied units.

“What we are doing today is admitting, from government, that we know this type of tenant harassment happens, and we’re sick and tired of tenants not having the right to go to court and prosecute their landlords when they engage in this behavior,” Ms. Quinn, a former housing organizer, told supporters at the rally.

Real estate industry says tenants' rights bill will clog courts
The Real Deal
by Jen Benepe
March, 03, 2008

Real estate lawyers and lobbyists say a newly-passed bill that allows tenants to sue landlords for harassment would jam up the court system.

The bill, which the City Council unanimously passed last Wednesday, must be signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It allows tenants to sue landlords for harassment, which can include incessant buy-out offers by owners eager to turn low-performing units into high-end rentals, the bill's sponsors said.

Adam Leitman Bailey, an ALB Law PC attorney who represents both landlords and tenants, said the bill was "irresponsible" and would unleash a flood of frivolous cases.

Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito, one of the co-sponsors of bill 627-A, disagreed, saying the vast majority of housing court cases are initiated by landlords.

"It is a great day in the city when we can provide added protection for tenants against over-aggressive landlords who intend to force them out," said

Another co-sponsor, Daniel Gardonick, said the bill "responsibly balances [tenants'] rights with safeguards for landlords from tenants who may try to overreach."

Several council members say they are receiving more complaints from residents who claim they are getting pestered to move or have had services denied repeatedly as a way to force them out.

Bloomberg is expected to sign the bill, which the Housing Preservation and Development department endorsed with minor changes at two public hearings. But Bailey, the real estate attorney, said the mayor might think twice because the city will need "a new court house to accommodate all the new cases."

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents the city's rental property owners, and The Real Estate Board of New York opposed the bill.

"We call it the landlord harassment bill," Steven Spinola, REBNY's president, told The Real Deal for an article in its February issue.

Spinola had said that the Housing Preservation and Development department should first provide evidence of a violation before a tenant can sue for harassment.

The only change HPD agreed to in the final bill was a clarification that tenants should not be able to sue while a landlord is attempting to fix service interruptions or problems, said Mark-Viverito.

The final bill also eliminated one and two-family homes from the harassment designation.

1 comment:

BennyPhish said...

I asked ALB, and he said yes, it would absolutely affect coop/condo boards.