Mayor Bill de Blasio last week signed into law three new measures to protect tenants from harassment from aggressive landlords.
The new laws outlaw some ‘buy-out’ practices used to force tenants out of rent-regulated apartments, often in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods.
According to the city, owners have used unscrupulous tactics to pressure tenants out of affordable apartments so they can reap rent increases from the turnover: making threats, harassing tenants at their workplace or at late hours of the night, hiring ‘Tenant Relocators’ to intimidate tenants into taking a buyout offer they’ve already refused.
The new laws prohibit these tactics and put in place new protections.
Intro. 757-A, sponsored by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, makes it unlawful for an owner to make a buyout offer within 180 days of a tenant explicitly refusing one.
Intro. 682-A, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, makes it unlawful for an owner, in connection with a buyout offer, to threaten a tenant, to contact tenants at odd hours, or to provide false information to a tenant.
Intro. 700-A, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, makes it unlawful for an owner to make a buyout offer without informing tenants of their right to stay in their apartment, to seek an attorney’s advice, and to decline any future contact on a buyout offer for 180 days.
“We won’t let tenants be intimidated and forced out of their homes. These new laws protect tenants from harassment and aggressive buyout schemes, and simultaneously help the City keep neighborhoods affordable. We have a strong partnership with the City Council standing up for tenants, and we thank the sponsors of these laws for helping combat these unscrupulous practices,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“These new laws will protect tenants and keep the process of buyout offers by landlords fair and honest,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“New Yorkers living in rent-regulated housing have the right to stay in their homes if they wish, and should never feel pressured, intimidated or coerced into accepting offers they don’t want to take. With today’s bill signings, New York City is ensuring that tenants are protected from harassment and coercion.”
The penalty for violating the new laws ranges from $1,000 to $10,000 for a first offense, to $2,000 to $10,000 for subsequent offenses.
Fighting displacement is a major priority for the de Blasio administration. The City has increased funding for free, anti-eviction legal services to tenants eight-fold, to more than $50 million.
It also implemented the first-ever rent freeze in the history of the Rent Guidelines Board and formed a Tenant Support Unit to door-knock tenants in at-risk buildings in neighborhoods across the city to inform tenants of their rights, address housing code violations, and connect tenants with free legal services.
A new Office of Civil Justice has also been created in partnership with the City Council, to c-ordinate and recommend strategies to provide free and low-cost legal services to New Yorkers in need.
And a Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force set up with the Attorney General and State will lay criminal charges against landlords who render buildings unsafe or unlivable to force tenants out of rent stabilized housing.
“People deserve to be able to stay in their homes, free from harassment,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “These bills will protect tenants from owners who cross the line in their efforts induce tenants to vacate their units.”
Scott Stamper, Supervising Attorney at MFY Legal Services, which represents low-income tenants throughout the city, commented: “We’ve seen a real rise in landlords stalking, threatening, and badgering tenants with unwanted buyout demands.
“This isn’t negotiation, it’s harassment. As with anyone else, when a tenant says no it means no, and we commend the Mayor and the Council for giving tenants another tool to stand up for themselves.”