WRITTEN BY DANIEL FITZSIMMONS ON .
Lawmakers hope increased penalties for tenant harassment will deter unscrupulous landlords
A recently passed measure in the city council that toughens penalties for landlords found guilty of tenant harassment is receiving mixed reviews from affordable housing advocates, who say increasing penalties against unscrupulous landlords is a worthy cause, but more must be done.
The legislation, sponsored by council members Margaret Chin and Jumaane Williams, actually amends a pre-existing bill that levied a $5,000 fine to landlords found guilty of harassment. The amendment doubles that fine to $10,000 and will also result in the guilty landlord’s name being posted to a public list on the city’s Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development’s website.
Sue Susman, president of the Central Park Gardens Tenants’ Association, who also runs a popular mailing list on affordable housing issues and is considered a communication hub in the affordable housing community, said the amendment is an important step in the right direction but that the definition of what constitutes harassment must be broadened.
“Right now, landlords have their agents call rent regulated tenants offering money to move, with an implied or spoken ‘or else we’ll see you in court,’ and that’s perfectly legal,” said Susman, who has a law degree from NYU and is currently involved with the Real Rent Reform Campaign.
There’s also the matter of landlords taking tenants to court in frivolous lawsuits that are eventually tossed out but nonetheless cause financial and emotional damage, she said, which is a currently legal and effective form of harassment.
Susman praised the amendment but said she’d like the public shaming aspect to have deeper consequences for landlords.
“I like that HPD will post information about violations,” she said. “But who would be affected by those postings? I’d be thrilled if there were a consequence that protected tenants directly, such as the requirement that all apartments in the affected building must remain rent regulated for the duration of their current occupants’ tenancies.”