Friday, November 02, 2007

Council Proposes Crackdown on Abusive Landlords

Columbia Spectator
By Melissa Repko
City Council members aim to crack down on tenant harassment with a bill they introduced in front of over 100 supporters on Wednesday.
The proposed legislation, spearheaded by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, would make tenant harassment a class C violation of the Housing Maintenance Code. Violators would pay from $1000 to $5000 for each offense.
“For too long, tenants have been powerless against landlords who seek to pursue them illegally through threats or interruption of basic services and increasingly through frivolous court proceedings,” said Councilmember Dan Garodnick, D-Manhattan. “This bill gives tenants a fair chance to fight back.”
Locally, allegations against landlords of tenants harassment have been widespread. Tenants in buildings owned by the Pinnacle Group in West Harlem and elsewhere, along with the advocacy group Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem, have filed a federal lawsuit against Pinnacle, saying that the landlord has mounted a concerted campaign of harassment aimed at getting tenants out of their rent-regulated apartment so they can be “flipped” to market rate.
While Quinn stressed the positive aspects of growth and development, she warned against taking extreme measures to evict tenants. “We need to recognize that with development often comes gentrification pressures,” she said. “There are bad apples out there who are responding to that gentrification by deliberately and willingly engaging in campaigns of tenant harassment.”
“There is no compassion in the tactics that are being implicated,” said Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, D-Manhattan Valley and East Harlem, adding that many tenants being targeted are elderly. “We are here to say that greed will not trump dignity.”
Rachael Klausner, a 96-year-old resident of 200 East 26th St., voiced fears of landlord harassment in her home of 64 years. Ever since there was a fire in the building on April 16, one third of the building’s tenants—most of whom are elderly—have been homeless and there have been no repairs to the site.
“These are the people who are being harassed out of their homes,” said Christine LaFroscia, another resident of the building and the president of its tenant’s association. “Only by changing the system will we be able to put our heads to our pillows at night knowing that people like Rachael and others like her are not going to be evicted from their homes.”
Quinn responded to concerns that landlords would be inundated with frivolous lawsuits, pointing to the bill’s safeguards. The bill spells out the offenses that are considered harassment, which include cutting off services like water and heat, deliberately failing to make repairs, and falsely claiming that tenants have failed to pay rent. Tenants who file three lawsuits that are deemed baseless are not allowed automatic standing to file a fourth.
With Quinn’s backing and widespread support within the council, the proposal looks likely to pass. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not taken a public position on the bill.