City Cracks Down on Harassing Landlords

Iris Ramos, Natividad Pérez and Sonia Martínez, who have had problems with bad landlords, praised the new laws against irresponsible owners. (Photo via El Diario)

From now on, abusive landlords who harass tenants, fail to make repairs in apartments and continue to use dirty tactics to kick the poorest people out of their homes will be in trouble in New York.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made a statement on Wednesday after signing an 18-law package to take effect before the end of the year. The laws aim to reinforce the fight against tenant harassment by landlords and make it easier for residents to take abusive building owners to court. They also increase punishments and enforce laws against dangerous and illegal construction.

“Tenant harassment is among the most malicious side effect of New York City’s economic boom,” said the mayor upon signing the new laws at an event held in a senior center in Manhattan. He added, “We will not hesitate to crack down on abusive landlords.”

Mexican-born Natividad Pérez knows this very well. She has lived in an apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for 30 years, and fighting with her landlord has become an everyday occurrence for her.

“The landlord is always harassing me. All year he has been telling me that I need to leave, because he intended to raise my rent as much as he felt like it and I did not allow it,” said Pérez. “He would also send the workers [and] other tenants to bother me, and he would harass me every week. He has not made any repairs, my kitchen is falling apart, the floor, the windows and the bathroom are in a poor state, and all of this has made me emotionally ill.”

Tenant compensation

Pérez now feels that she has more support from the city. Tenants who are victims of harassment could now receive compensation of up to $1,000 and take their case to court for punitive damages. Unlike current legislation, which requires tenants to demonstrate that a landlord committed harassment either by action or omission, a rebuttable presumption that an owner commits violations by action or omission – both of which constitute harassment – will now be established.

“Now their abuse is really going to end, because this is a victory for tenants and they will not be able to look the other way anymore,” said Pérez, euphorically.

Puerto Rican-born Iris Ramos, a resident of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, also celebrated the signing of the new laws, which create the Office of the Tenant Advocate. The agency will work alongside the city’s Department of Buildings to monitor tenant protection plans and follow up on harassment complaints.

“Landlords have no right to abuse us so much. They took years to fix my floors: Water was running through my whole apartment and no one would take care of it,” said Ramos.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that the new legislation will make it even harder for owners seeking to displace New Yorkers who, like Ramos, have lived in their apartments for a long time.

“Tenants drawn into erroneous eviction proceedings, or facing other forms of harassment dealt out by unscrupulous landlords, deserve to have the full protections of the law behind them,” said the council member, adding that one of the laws expands the definition of harassment to include contact at inappropriate hours.

Jumaane Williams, chair of the council’s Committee on Housing, highlighted another piece of legislation signed by the mayor which halts illegal construction in buildings as a tactic to harass tenants.

The bill “sends a message to unscrupulous landlords that the city is serious about protecting tenants and their rights,” said the politician.

Similarly, Council member Ben Kallos stressed that landlords who insist in ignoring their tenants’ repair claims will feel the consequences even in their mortgages.

“The Stand for Tenant Safety legislative package aims to correct the behavior of the worst landlords, who will now face the threat of foreclosure if they neglect to make necessary repairs,” he said. “For too long some landlords and building owners have neither fixed recurring problems on their properties nor paid the fines that go along with those violations, putting tenants in unsafe conditions sometimes for years on end.”

Community leaders pleased

Jesús González, co-executive director of Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH), which receives daily complaints from tenants and helps them fight abusive landlords, said that even though the city has spent years trying to corner irresponsible, harassing owners through a number of measures, this package sets a high standard.

“I am happy that the New York City Council listened to the situation of thousands of tenants and to many organizations who were advocating for stronger tenant protection. They listened and took legislative action,” said the activist.

The package includes other regulations, such as preventing landlords from visiting at odd hours unless authorized by the tenant and allowing tenants to file a complaint if [there are] repeated interruptions of basic services throughout the building.

Another one of the laws creates a task force (…). Among its main functions will be to evaluate the current construction and renovation practices of the owners of occupied homes.

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