En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: The Village Voice
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Tenant Harassment Bill To Become Law

Ramona
Santana knows when she’s not wanted. Two years ago her landlord offered her
$5,000 to get lost, she said. That was after a fire she calls suspicious
damaged one apartment in the building a few blocks south of Fordham University
where Santana and much of her family have live for 25 years.

"I
told him no. I’m not going anywhere. I have the hospital right near me, my
clinic," she said in a voice still heavy with the accent of her native Puerto Rico. When the landlord wouldn’t renew her lease
she brought him to housing court. "I have a paper from the judge. It says
he’s supposed to bring to me my lease in 30 days. But he don’t want to bring me
my lease. He won’t give me that lease. He wants me gone," she said.

Santana
believes the landlord’s delay in renewing her lease, the fires, the monetary
offer if she vacates her home and the vandalism and poor repairs in her
building are all part of a campaign to chase out long time tenants with low
stabilized rents – in favor of higher paying tenants.

But
Santana ain’t going anywhere. Except to City Hall that is. Santana intends to
join scores of other tenants and their supporters at noon today on the steps of
City Hall to celebrate the passage of an anti-tenant harassment bill.

The new
law** will make harassment itself an
offense over which tenants can take their landlords to housing court. She’ll be
in the Blue Room when Bloomberg signs the bill into law at 1 p.m.

Santana
twice testified in favor of the legislation, introduced by Council members Dan
Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito.

"It’s
good because (Bill No.) 627 protects tenants and landlords. Some landlords do
too much harassment for the tenants. The tenants need protection," she
said Wednesday night.

Tenants
can currently bring complaints against their landlords for failing to make
certain repairs, for heat and hot water complaints and sundry other offenses
and can obviously file a criminal complaint if a landlord threatens them
physically. But each offense is separate. Tenants and housing rights advocates
argued that in many neighborhoods across the city landlords wage concerted
campaigns against their subsidized and rent stabilized tenants, hoping to chase
them away in favor of higher paying new comers.

The
piece-meal system of adjudicating each heat and hot water violation or each
instance of a broken elevator doesn’t address the real problem, the staff
attorney for South Brooklyn Legal Services argued in testimony before the council
in December. Instead tenants need a mechanism to call out landlords who are
trying to push tenants out with a campaign of harassment.

The
council agreed. At 1 p.m. Bloomberg will sign Local Law 7, making harassment of
tenants for the purpose of encouraging them to vacate their apartments an
actionable housing code violation. The Association for Neighborhood and Housing
Development, a coalition of 90 neighborhood housing organizations, said tenant
harassment is a significant problem for its members.

"As
market rents continue to rise in neighborhoods across the City, there is more
and more incentive for landlords to use non-legal methods to push out tenants
who are paying less then the market will bear," the association said in a
statement. "Harassment is a major contributing factor to the rapid loss of
the City’s affordable housing stock, including the de-regulation of 13,000
apartments each year. Many unscrupulous landlords buy buildings with the
expectation that they will be able to maximize their profit by using harassing
tactics to push out existing residents."

** Make the Road New York has worked in coalition with the Association for
Neighborhood and Housing Development to spearhead the passage of this
legislation.