Brooklyn Boro

New law protects rent-regulated tenants from landlord harassment

December 3, 2019 David Brand
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A new state law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday will prevent landlords from harassing rent-regulated tenants or fostering dangerous and disruptive conditions that compel them to move.

Landlords throughout the city have attempted to drive out rent-regulated tenants through campaigns of attrition — not turning on the heat or making necessary repairs, for example — or by deliberately creating hazardous conditions, like conducting large-scale renovation projects in basements or neighboring units.

A landlord who engages in that behavior against one tenant can now be charged with a Class A misdemeanor under the new law. Landlords who deliberately create unsafe conditions for two or more tenants can be found guilty of a Class E felony. The measure expands on an existing law that protected tenants who demonstrated physical injury as a result of their living situations.

Illustration: David Brand/Queens Eagle

When tenants move out of rent-regulated apartments in buildings with fewer than six units, the vacant apartments revert to market-rate pricing, which means landlords can charge whatever the next tenant is willing to pay. The lure of more rental income has incentivized some landlords to drive tenants out by fostering dangerous conditions “under the guise of necessary repairs,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Joe Lentol.

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“The harassment of tenants in order to force them out so the landlord can raise the rent has been a rampant and unconscionable problem,” Lentol said in a statement. “This bill will go a long way to protect tenants from such harassment and help keep individuals and families in their home.”

State Attorney General Letitia James proposed the measure to prevent “unscrupulous landlords” from exposing tenants to deliberately dangerous conditions.

“Today that changes,” James said. “Tenants will no longer have to meet an unreasonably high bar to demonstrate that they are being harassed. Instead, we will ensure that landlords will face justice.”

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