At Housing Court, a constant stream of tenants battling their landlords’ endless roster of attorneys over as little as $200 in late rent is just an every day occurrence. And according to tenant lawyers, this is just the tip of the iceberg because there are countless unheard cases that may never make it to court.
Tenants still do win their cases, as it turns out they are often in the right. But then it is just back to court again, tenants and lawyers have said.
Council members are seeking to change that, and “make landlords pay for the pain they willingly inflict on tenants for the sake of profit,” said Council member Margaret Chin. On Tuesday, the bill, that would double landlord fines for harassing tenants, passed committee. UPDATE: It will be voted on by full City Council later today, and is expected to pass, Chin’s office stated in an email.
If a court finds that a landlord intended to push a lawful tenant out, they could be fined up to $10,000 and the landlord and building name will be posted online by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
“We’re going to shame you so everyone knows who you are,” Chin said at a Housing Committee meeting Tuesday. Fourteen other council members including the speaker have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, which passed unanimously through the committee Tuesday.
Committee chair Jumaane Williams said the point of the bill was not to fine all landlords $10,000, but to increase protection for tenants in the right.
The bill may be counterproductive for smaller landlords, however. Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, told Wall Street Journal the fines could put small landlords out of business and encourage selling their properties to institutional investors.
The large institutional owners are typically the landlords who have the ability to hire entire portfolios of lawyers and systematically try to push tenants out if they so wish. Stories of tenants bewildered over the level of constant harassment they receive over a few hundred dollars is common, because the apartments they live in are potential multi-million condos.
According to lawyers and small landlords, the debt taken in purchasing a building full of rent-stabilized units, which may have had no mortgage when the small landlord owned it, basically calls for turning over all the regulated apartments.
It has become an increasingly sensitive issue as the rent regulated population ages in place. The majority of rent regulated housing are units created in the 1960s-1970s, and many of the tenants have lived there for decades, some as the first to move into those apartments they now still rent. Seniors are vulnerable as it comes to moving, and the current City Hall has carried out a number of protests to moving or pushing out the elderly population across the city just this year.
The fines can also be as low as $2,000, and council members said courts would not over-fine small landlords, especially for first offenses.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Councilwomen Margaret Chin’s tenant bill was introduced Tuesday. It actually passed committee on Tuesday and will be voted on by full City Council also on Tuesday. Epoch Times regrets the error.