Council Set to Pass Legislation Doubling Fines For Landlords Found Guilty of Harassment

Council members Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin. Photo via Instagram.

Council members Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin. Photo via Instagram.

More detail now on a story we mentioned in our “Morning Reads,” City Council legislation toughening fines for bad landlords.  District 1 Council member Margaret Chin authored the bill, along with Jumaane Williams, who represents Flatbush and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Several colleagues, including local Council member Rosie Mendez, joined as co-sponsors.

The legislation, assured of passing this afternoon, will double the maximum fines for landlords found guilty of tenant harassment.  It will also require the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to post the names of those guilty property owners and their building addresses online.  More from Council member Chin’s press release:

Tenant harassment takes place when a landlord physically or psychologically threatens or intimidates a tenant or withholds building repairs or others services, in an attempt to force the tenant out of their home. This kind of shameful and illegal behavior by greedy landlords often targets rent-regulated tenants, especially vulnerable senior citizens, and is a major cause of the waves of illegal deregulation that continue to decrease New York City’s affordable housing stock. The legislation passed today, Intro No. 129-a, increases the maximum fine for landlords found guilty of tenant harassment from $5,000 per residential unit to $10,000 per residential unit. For repeat offenders — those found guilty of tenant harassment more than once within a five-year period — the legislation also increases the minimum fine from $1,000 per residential unit to $2,000 per residential unit. The legislation also creates an additional punishment, by which landlords found guilty of tenant harassment will be forced to have their name published online. This offenders list — which will also include the address of the building in which the harassment took place — will be placed on HPD’s website, and will clearly state that the landlords named in the list have engaged in tenant harassment.

In a statement, Chin added:

We’re setting a new standard for punishing landlords who harass tenants… We’re doing it because these types of unethical landlords are ruining lives and killing affordable housing in our communities. Tenant harassment leads to the illegal deregulation of rent-regulated apartments, and it often targets our most vulnerable seniors. Preserving New York City’s affordable and senior housing stock means getting tougher than ever on landlords who engage in this behavior, and that’s exactly what we’ve done today. I look forward to seeing our bill signed into law so it can go to work protecting tenants and affordable housing throughout our city.

In recent months, local elected officials have injected themselves into tenant-landlord disputes on the Lower East Side.  They have taken on property owners such as Jared Kushner, Samy Mahfar, Marolda Properties and Steve Croman.

In the Wall Street Journal today, real estate industry representatives expressed skepticism about the legislation.  Frank Ricci of the Rent Stabilization Association said, “My sense is that they just want to show that they’re doing something even though it’s not going to result in anything meaningful down the road.” He speculated that the new fines could prompt smaller landlords to give up their buildings. “The more onerous you make these rules and regulations, the more tempted they are to sell out to a private-equity firm, an institutional owner,” Ricci told the Journal.

In 2008, the city passed legislation allowing tenants to sue their landlords in housing court. The Rent Stabilization Association unsuccessfully challenged the law in court.