Tenant harassment when landlords consistently deny heat and hot water, pressure residents for a buyout or threaten tenants with violance, verbal abuse or frivolous legal action is fueling the city’s affordable housing crisis, advocates have long been saying.
Now the City Council is listening.
Speaker Christine Quinn introduced legislation yesterday to provide a new layer of tenant protections. It would allow them to take landlords to housing court where harassment would be considered a "Class C" violation and civil penalties would range from $1,000 to $5,000.
"We need to recognize that with development efforts comes gentrification pressures," Quinn said, "and there are bad apples out there landlords willingly and deliberately trying to get tenants out so they cant rent their apartments for much higher rents."
She praised the Bloomberg administration’s New Housing Marketplace plan to create 165,000 units of affordable housing, but said if the city continues to lose its current stock, "we’re pouring water into a sinking ship."
According to figures from the Association for Neighborhood Housing Development (where Quinn first worked after college), there was a 20 percent drop in units renting for under $1,000 from 2002 to 2005, and while 9 percent should have migrated out of this range due to annual rent increases by the New York Rent Guidelines Board, the other 11 percent or 164,013 apartments were due to "unnatural" forces.
"We’re losing 10,000 rent- stabilized units a year," said Irene Baldwin, the association’s executive director. "But you don’t need statistics. Any neighborhood you look at, whether it’s Riverdale or the South Bronx, East Flatbush or Hell’s Kitchen, we’re losing our affordable housing." And it’s not the "bad old" landlords doing this, she said, but "the new Wall Street investors and speculators."
Quinn said the bill co-sponsored by Council members Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito balances protections for tenants with safeguards for landlords. For example, if a landlord has three harassment allegations dismissed by a judge over 10 years, a tenant will have to receive a judge’s approval to file another claim.
Frank Ricci, director of government affairs of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, plans to fight. "Frivolous cases are going to clog up the courts," he said, "and the legitimate ones will take the backburner."
In Chinatown, Kim Lee Wong’s landlord tried to get her out of the room she rents for $350 a month, offering her three months free rent if she left. She refused and now is plagued by noise from her upstairs neighbors, which the landlord refuses to address, she thinks, because he wants her out.