En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: Courier Life Publications
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Tenants Have Their Day in Court – City Council Backs New Safeguards For Renters

PHOTO: Dozens of tenants rights activists and housing advocates** showed
their support for the Tenant Protection Act at City Council.

The
contentious relationship between tenants and landlords in Brooklyn is about to
become even more fraught with the City Council’s passing of the Tenant
Protection Act, enabling tenants to bring their landlords to Housing Court on
cases involving harassment.

"This
bill is a historic step forward," Speaker Christine Quinn said.
"Tenants could never, until today, take their landlord to court for harassment.
This bill holds landlords accountable in court, and by doing that, it will stop
the harassment and help the housing crisis."

The
legislation, passed February 27, will create a Class C violation for
harassment, based on actions that an owner takes against a tenant with the
intention of vacating the dwelling unit or waiving right to its occupancy.

Some of the
actions that qualified as harassment under the legislation included using
repeated force or making repeated threats to a tenant’s well-being, cutting off
essential services such as heat, electricity and running water, removing a
tenant’s possessions, removing doors or damaging locks to a unit, or any other
repeated or prolonged acts designed to pressure a tenant to vacate their
apartment.

"This
bill will get to the heart of harassment and get to those meritorious cases
that need to be heard," said Councilmember Erik Martin Dilan, Chair of the
Housing Committee. "Harassment is out there and alive today, and we are
paying special attention to harassment with the intent to deregulate or
destabilize rent-stabilized apartments."

Last year,
over 13,000 apartments were deregulated in New York City, according to the City Wide
Task Force on Housing Court
and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. Landlords have
filed 97.5 percent of the cases in Housing
Court, and since 2000 the average number of cases
that landlords have filed each year to evict tenants has increased by 25.4
percent since 1990.

"This
is the litmus test. Now we have legislation that will track the process from
start to finish in a coordinated fashion should the allegation of harassment be
founded," said Councilmember Diana Reyna, who, along with Dilan, voted in
favor of the bill. "No longer will a woman feel threatened by her landlord
to be reported by the INS or be evicted by any means necessary. This is about
confronting fear."

Under the
current law, tenants are limited to taking their landlord to Housing Court only for violations
relating to the physical condition of the apartment or failures to provide
essential services. This has led to tenants and nonprofit housing advocates
making multiple trips to Housing
Court every time a landlord denies services or
fails to improve the building’s living conditions after a tenant makes a 311
call to the Department of Housing and Preservation Development.

"I
think this legislation is a long-overdue recognition that tenants should not
have to suffer threats, neglect and mistreatment from landlords attempting to
force tenants to move," said Sister Kathy Marie, acting director of the
Bushwick Housing Independence Project. "We applaud it and trust that the
courts will use it to protect the great diversity of our city."

Community
organizations including Make the Road New York, BHIP, United Neighbors Organization
and St. Nicholas NPC brought dozens of tenant advocates who waited around City
Hall for much of the day until the vote was taken.

"As you
know our community is changing very fast, and luxury housing is in every corner
and long term residents are being pushed out of the community and landlords are
finding more ways to harass tenants," said Rolando Guzman, a housing
advocate with St. Nicholas NPC in Williamsburg,
one of the first organizations working on the draft of the bill. "This
legislation will empower tenants to fight back on the grounds of harassment. We
celebrate this legislation and now our job will be to go back to the community
and train the community about this legislation."

Although
there were few representatives of landlords at the hearing, the bill is
expected to re-ignite strained relations between owners and tenants in many Brooklyn neighborhoods.

At an
owner’s forum sponsored by HPD and held at the Ridgewood
Bushwick Senior
Center two months ago, about one hundred
owners from Northeast and Central Brooklyn
voiced their displeasure with problem tenants and the Section 8 program. Many
of the owners expressed their suspicions that City Council and HPD were
pro-tenant in their housing laws and enforcement policies. Councilmember Dilan
again tried to ease those concerns at City Hall this week.

"For
the owners who act in good faith, they don’t have anything to worry
about," Dilan said. "The bad actors are going to get hammered.

**Including
Make the Road New
York
members