State and New York City officials announced today the creation of a joint task force to crack down on property owners who illegally drive residents out of their buildings. According to a press release, the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force will “confront the rise in complaints that landlords are using a variety of tactics, including disruptive and dangerous renovation and construction projects, to force tenants into vacating rent-regulated apartments.”
On the Lower East Side in recent years, several big landlords have come under fire for their handling of gut-renovation projects. Affordable housing advocates have argued that the city’s Department of Buildings and Department of Housing Preservation and Development have been unable or, perhaps, unwilling to deal with complaints from tenants in real time. It remains to be seen whether the new collaboration will lead to more effective enforcement.
More details from the news release:
The new task force will conduct joint cellar-to-roof inspections, coordinate enforcement actions, and when necessary speed the prosecution of predatory landlords who purposefully distress properties as a form of harassment in order to displace tenants and deregulate rent-stabilized apartments… Since its inception (in 2012), the New York State Tenant Protection Unit has recaptured more than 37,000 unlawfully deregulated apartments, returning them to rent regulation. The TPU’s successes led to the mobilization of the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force to coordinate those prosecutions, to bring maximum pressure on predatory landlords trying to displace tenants to raise rents and deregulate rent-stabilized apartments… In response to the booming New York City real estate market, particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, some property owners are using harassment to force current occupants to vacate their apartments in order fetch higher rents or convert rent-regulated buildings to luxury condominiums. Under rent regulation, when a tenant vacates a rent-regulated apartment, the owner can automatically increase rents by 20 percent, and further increase rents by making apartment improvements. If the rent gets higher than $2,500 per month, the apartment automatically exits the rent regulation system and rent can be raised dramatically. The task force is executing unannounced and joint inspections of buildings in New York City where landlords and management companies are suspected of using construction as a means to harass tenants. Following multiple joint on-site property inspections, the task force agencies have already substantiated a number of tenant complaints and the task force has several on-going investigations. The member agencies will pursue evidence of illegal acts, and lodge enforcement actions.
Officials say tenants should continue to make complaints by calling 311 or by contacting the Department of Buildings and Department Housing Preservation and Development. They can also fill out a complaint form available on the AG’s website.
Task force members include: the State Attorney General, the State Division of Homes & Community Renewal, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.