Landlord deportation threat drives immigrant call for help

City officials and advocacy groups in are expressing concern following reports that landlords are threatening tenants with immigration.

Emboldened by a Trump Administration crackdown on illegal immigration and so-called Sanctuary City status, one group of tenants said their landlord threatened to have them “rounded upˮ by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they failed to vacate their apartment.

The tenants living in a rent-stabilized building in East Harlem have now filed a civil suit against the landlord and the owners of the building after what they call a “relentless campaign of discrimination” based on the fact that they are immigrants, according to the complaint.

Mayor Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio

The suit prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to issue a statement condemning landlord harassment of immigrants and urging any tenant victims to contact the city.

“In New York City, it is illegal to discriminate against tenants based on their immigration status. We take these allegations incredibly seriously and regularly conduct outreach in neighborhoods to ensure all tenants know their rights,” a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs said in the statement.

“This type of intimidation and ILLEGAL harassment is happening all too frequently,” said council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a tweet March 17, referring to a report on the lawsuit filed by Araceli Ramos and Rosa Ramos alleging that their landlord began sending them letters to vacate their apartment or they would report them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

They also allege that the landlord, and agents acting on his behalf, threatened to physically harm them and their family members, including young children, threatened to intentionally damage or destroy the building if they didn’t leave, made repeated and unwanted buyout offers accompanied by threats and at unusual hours, and even had someone impersonate an ICE officer to intimidate them.

The complaint alleges that the landlord’s adult son screamed at the tenants from the street that he was “happy he voted for Trump,” and was “tired of all these immigrants,” and that he was going to make sure someone “rounded up” the tenants and other residents of the building.

In another instance cited in the suit, one of the defendants called the tenants “immigrant pieces of shit” who had “no right to stay in the building.”

Eric Schneiderman

Eric Schneiderman

The suit points out that the building, 337 East 115th Street, is a “valuable real estate investment” with an assessed market value of $2.2 million. It lies within an area of East Harlem that is to be rezoned, and could be redeveloped to include up to three additional stories on top of its current five.

Both tenants “fled in fear” from their apartments earlier this month, and ask in the lawsuit to be able to live in their apartments again and for compensatory damages.

The group is being represented by legal service providers Lenox Hill Neighborhood House and New York Lawyers For the Public Interest, organizations that provide free legal services for low-income residents. These kinds of providers have received a huge boost of funding in recent years by the de Blasio administration, which pumped $46 million into legal services for tenants between 2014 and 2016.

The funding has gotten results — in August of last year, De Blasio reported that civil evictions were down 24 percent, and his administration increased funding for legal services to $100 million for the 2017 fiscal year.

STEVEN CHOI

STEVEN CHOI

It was less than two years ago when Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law three measures to crackdown on tenant harassment by landlords. And in February 2015, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formed the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force to crack down on tenant harassment, after stating that the number of tenant harassment complaints had nearly doubled since 2011.

The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) recently called on the city to increase funding for immigration legal services in the wake of President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

“With the administration’s immigration executive orders in full effect that have greatly expanded enforcement, emboldened Immigration Customs Enforcement to target and detain immigrants, and caused mass panic in communities, it is essential that New York City and State step up to provide the necessary legal services to represent the thousands of impacted immigrants in New York State,” said Steven Choi, executive director of NYIC, in a press release March 13.

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