Mayor Bloomberg signed off on the city’s first law enabling tenants to sue
landlords in Housing Court
for systemic harassment.**
Previously, tenants had to take landlords to court for each and every
violation, such as failure to provide hot water or letting so much water leak
that floors collapse. The so-called Tenant Protection Act is primarily aimed at
landlords who are trying to force tenants out of rent-regulated apartments in order
to bump the rent up to obscene market rates.
The new law
was cheered by tenants at a rally outside City Hall yesterday; one of them told
the Times that when she complained about problems with bed bugs, "her landlord
told her to put the insects in a tortilla and eat them." Though the civil
penalties for harassment seem a little low fines range from $1,000 to $5,000
the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 city property
owners and managers, lobbied hard against the law. A representative for the
group insisted to the Times that tenant harassment was not widespread and that
the bill would glut the Housing
Court with frivolous lawsuits.
Christine C. Quinn (pictured at yesterday’s rally), who co-sponsored the bill,
has promised to provide more resources to the court as needed. And regarding
the frivolous lawsuit concerns, Louise Seeley, executive director of the
City-Wide Task Force on Housing
Court, notes that 98 percent of housing court
cases are filed by landlords. Testifying at a committee hearing, she pointed
out that "emptying long-standing tenants from buildings is a business plan.
Tenants do not have the time and money to spend the day in housing court [over
frivolous cases]." And the new law allows landlords to be compensated for their
attorney’s fees when cases are deemed frivolous.
** Make the Road
coalition with the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development to
spearhead the passage of this legislation.