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Know Your Rights
Source: AM New York
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Bill Would Give Tenants Right to Sue Landlords

For the first time in the city’s history, tenants will be able to sue their landlords for "harassment," if a new City Council bill introduced Wednesday passes.

"Tenant harassment is not just an individual problem, it is a major, growing threat to affordable housing across the city," said Benjamin Dulchin, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, an advocacy group.

Landlord harassment has come on the heels of gentrification, say advocates, as building managers work to get — rent-stabilized tenants out and market-rate tenants in. It includes landlords bringing a large number of frivolous lawsuits against tenants, who themselves sometimes can’t afford a lawyer or speak English well enough to understand the accusations.

Other harassment tactics include failing to provide regular heat and hot water.

Under current law, tenants can only bring landlords to court for specifics violations, not a pattern of harassment, The new bill would change that, and create civil penalties up to $5,000 for harassing tenants.

"Tenant harassment can come in many forms," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), "and once we pass this legislation, we’ll have the legal framework to cover them all."

To protect landlords from frivolous harassment lawsuits, the new bills includes a provision that prevents tenants from bringing more than three lawsuits in a 10-year period if the previous three have been dismissed by a judge.

Industry reps said it is often illegal subleters who bring harassment charges against landlords.

"The concern has been with not having primary tenants in the building," said Michael Slattery, senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents brokers and landlords. "People are reluctant to give up rent regulated properties in good neighborhoods, and they sometimes sublet them illegally."

If the vote passes the council, it needs to be signed by the mayor to be passed. A spokesman said the administration would review and work with the council on the bill.