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New tenant harassment bill strikes right balance

Earlier this week, the City Council put forward legislation that would strengthen laws pertaining to commercial tenant harassment.  Some of the media coverage about the legislation has been very inaccurate.  I would like to use this opportunity to clarify what the new legislation would do.

The legislation which the City Council will soon vote upon builds on laws it put in place in 2016.  The new legislation is focused on those who have been found guilty of harassment.

The bill expands the definition of commercial tenant harassment as an act or omission by a landlord that “would reasonably cause” a commercial tenant to vacate their property or waive any rights under their lease.  For example, a property owner who overcharges for utilities or refuses to make repairs in an effort to force the tenant to leave the property could be found guilty of harassment.

The bill adds three new actions that would constitute commercial tenant harassment. First, threatening a commercial tenant based on a person’s age, race, creed, color, or identity such as national origin, gender or disability would now be considered harassment. Secondly, requesting identifying documentation that would disclose the citizenship status of a commercial tenant would violate the law.  Finally, unreasonably refusing to cooperate with a tenant’s permitted repairs or construction activities is considered an act of harassment under the new law.

The bill increases civil penalties for those found guilty of commercial tenant harassment to a minimum of ten thousand dollars. Further, courts would be explicitly allowed to issue an order to the Department of Buildings directing them not to approve construction permits in cases where a commercial tenant has been the subject of commercial tenant harassment.

We believe the bill strikes the right balance between harsh penalties for bad actors while continuing to allow law-abiding owners the ability to provide safe and professional commercial spaces for their tenants. The legislation contains important exceptions to ensure that tenants can obtain permits to perform work in the space they control, projects that are already underway can continue to renew permits, and that efforts to keep buildings code compliant won’t be hindered.

With this legislation, the City Council is sending a strong message to bad actors who have been found guilty of harassment that this behavior is not tolerated in New York City.  The legislation will not hinder the commercial activity of good actors who comprise the vast majority of entities that on a daily basis ensure New York’s booming economy, record job growth, and unemployment rates at historic lows.

We want to thank City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, the lead bill sponsor for taking on this issue. Making harassing threats or disrupting essential services that interfere with a commercial tenant’s business is wrong and efforts should be made to ensure such practices do not continue.

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