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New legislation introduced to crack down on tenant harassment

On behalf of Steven Waldinger

New York has introduced new legislation making it easier to charge landlords with tenant harassment.

The Attorney General of New York has announced major new legislation that will significantly increase the penalties for landlords who threaten or harass tenants in rent-regulated apartments. According to NBC New York, the new law would lower the bar for what constitutes tenant harassment and could make it easier to charge unscrupulous landlords with a misdemeanor or felony. The changes come after a significant landlord-tenant dispute erupted in New York City with one landlord allegedly threatening his tenants with deportation if they didn’t move out.

Current law “inadequate”

Current law sets a high bar for proving tenant harassment. The Harassment of a Rent Regulated Tenant statute requires the prosecutor to not only prove that the landlord tried to force the tenant to move out, but that the landlord caused the tenant physical injury by doing so and intended to cause the tenant such injury. The state Attorney General noted that current law makes it so difficult to convict a landlord of tenant harassment that not a single landlord has been convicted of the offense since the law was introduced 20 years ago.

The issue has come to the fore in recent months with property prices rising dramatically in New York. As Real Estate Weekly reports, in one high profile case, a group of rent-regulated tenants claimed their landlord threatened them with deportation if they didn’t move out of their apartments. Using a tenant’s immigration status against them is illegal and those tenants have now filed a civil suit against the landlord.

Tougher criminal penalties

Concerns about the inadequacy of current tenant protections led to new legislation being introduced by New York’s Attorney General. The new legislation would make it a class A misdemeanor for a landlord to take actions that do or are likely to “interfere with and disturb the comfort, repose, peace and quiet” of the tenant in his or her home. The maximum penalty for the offense is a year in jail. Committing the offense again within five years could lead to a class E felony with a maximum four-year prison sentence.

The new law also makes it a class E felony for landlords to try to force out tenants in two or more rent-regulated units by disturbing or interfering with the “comfort, repose, peace and quiet” of the tenants’ use of their units. That means that to bring criminal charges against a landlord, prosecutors will no longer have to prove that the tenant was physically injured by the landlord’s conduct. Instead, actions such as turning off the heat and water, making the unit uninhabitable, or exposing children to lead dust could be enough to lead to criminal charges against the landlord.

Help with landlord-tenant disputes

Disputes between landlords and tenants can be costly and time consuming for both parties. A real estate law firm can help either tenants or landlords resolve their dispute in a timely and satisfactory manner. By contacting an experienced law firm today, parties to a dispute will have the guidance and representation they need to uphold their rights and protect their best interests.