City Council Hearing on a Landlord Harassment Bill
City Council Chambers, City Hall
Monday Dec. 17, 10am
(Arrive early -- the line will be long -- or late in the afternoon, after many have left.)
This Monday, the City Council will hold a hearing on legislation to protect tenants from landlord harassment. This hearing affords tenants the opportunity to testify
on the increasing problem of landlord harassment,
on the difficulty of bringing harassment charges against a landlord under current law,
on the lack of anti-harassment enforcement and investigation by government agencies charged with tenant protection,
and on the ineffectiveness of fines against large corporate landlords.
Under current law, "harassment" does not include landlords repeatedly filing baseless law suits against tenants, and all harassment charges against a landlord must be initiated by the tenant and filed not in housing court but through the state by a difficult and often ineffective process. The Council is considering a bill which will allow tenants who are being taken to court by a landlord on a baseless, frivolous suit, to charge the landlord in housing court with harassment.
Unfortunately, the bill's penalties for harassment are meager fines -- only up to $5,000, an insignificant sum, especially for large corporate landlords. No jail sentences are being considered, nor surrender of premises, even for repeat offenders.
Of course, the ideal solution would be for city agencies to investigate and prosecute landlords themselves, rather than rely on harassed tenants to file charges. But while the Bloomberg administration continues to defund the agencies responsible for protecting tenants, this bill is a needed protection.
(The Council is also considering a bill that would allow landlords to sue tenants who file frivolous suits against the landlord, but this pro-landlord bill appears to be dead. It was introduced under the pretense of "fairness," but when you consider that tenants have no economic incentive to harass landlords (a bankrupted landlord can't provide services), while landlords have strong economic incentive to harass and bankrupt tenants out of stabilized apartments, it's quite clear that the "fairness" argument is misapplied and disguises a subversive strategy: to prevent tenants from filing any kind of suit against a landlord who could retaliate with a corporate legal team charging the tenant with harassing the landlord. The sponsors of this pro-landlord bill, Maria Baez and Joel Rivera, have been appropriately exposed and excoriated in the press.)