By Sarah Trefethen
A New York City landlord accused of illegally harassing Spanish-speaking tenants will be able to stay out of court in exchange for monitoring its compliance with the law more closely going forward, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced last week.
Castellan Real Estate Partners/Liberty Place Property Management, which operates nearly 1,800 apartments in 49 buildings in Northern Manhattan, Brooklyn and the South Bronx, struck a deal with New York State’s newly formed Tenant Protection Unit in which it agreed to submit to compliance monitoring for no more than three years.
The landlord has been accused of failing to provide renewal leases to existing tenants, charging them false fees and demanding that they provide proof of citizenship, all of which are illegal.
According to the governor’s office, the owner’s staff is also alleged to have personally threatened tenants with eviction because of their immigration status or failure to prove adequate income and pressured tenants to accept inadequate buyouts to leave their rent-regulated homes and waive their rights through English-only settlement documents.
“Without the need for court, or any other expensive or time-consuming law-enforcement intervention, the TPU has undertaken the absolutely first settlement of its kind for this agency, which not only moves to monitor a questionable owner, but also addresses the unlawful demands for social security numbers and proof-of-citizenship status,” Darryl C. Towns, commissioner/CEO of the state HCR, said in a statement.
Castellan has agreed to hire a monitor, paid by Castellan and approved by the state, for up to three years to ensure compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement.
It will also establish a $100,000 fund, administered by the TPU-approved monitor, to compensate tenants who may have been subject to wrongful conduct, and allow tenants who may have been improperly removed or forced to vacate their homes to move back to a similar apartment.
The announcement from the governor’s office did not state the minimum term for monitoring, or under what condition the money in the fund would be distributed to tenants. The office did not respond to a request for additional information.
Other conditions of the agreement include that the company will establish new written business policies, retrain its employees and agree that all future communication and documents directed to tenants must be in both English and Spanish.
“All New Yorkers deserve to be treated fairly, no matter where they come from,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“This settlement serves as a reminder to landlords that there will be real consequences if try to intimidate their tenants based on their background, citizenship or legal status.”