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Proposed law takes commercial New York landlords to task for harassment

On behalf of Steven Waldinger

A new law is under consideration which would hold commercial landlords liable for harassing tenants by shutting of heat, water and other harassing behavior.

New York City Council is currently considering a local law that would amend the city’s administrative code. The law specifically targets allegations of harassment by commercial landlords upon small businesses and other non-residential tenants. If successful, the bill would aid small business owners that believe they are being wrongfully pushed to vacate leased property.

Details of the proposal

The bill is aimed at curtailing the harassment of small businesses and other non-residential tenants. It defines non-residential harassment to include the use of threats, interruption of essential services like heat, water and electricity as well as the use of frivolous court activities. It also includes the removal of a door, window or lock from the property or otherwise preventing a tenant or invitee from entering the property. The law also covers the completion of construction or repairs on or near the property when such action interferes with the tenant’s business. Landlords that refuse to negotiate a renewal or extension of a lease agreement may also be subject to fines under this law.

Defenses are available. One example involves the provision considering the removal of doors or the completion of construction as harassment. Actions would generally be excused in instances when the landlord is removing doors or completing construction for bona fide repairs.

The law would include a number of remedies. Examples include:

  • Possession. In cases where the tenant was evicted or otherwise removed from the property, possession can be returned.
  • Monetary awards. Tenants can also receive monetary awards. This can include the damages equal to the costs associated with the dispute, one month’s worth of rent or $1,000, whichever is greater. Reasonable attorney’s fees may also be awarded.

The bill was proposed in 2015 and currently remains under committee review.

Impact of the proposal

This specific law would impact New York City. However if it is passed, similar laws could result throughout the state. As remedies are available to residential tenants that face these same issues, it is not unlikely that this or a similar bill would become law. Regardless of this particular bill’s fate, the proposal provides an example of the evolving nature of real estate law in New York, especially landlord and tenant law. Those facing a real estate law dispute like the landlord/tenant issues outlined above are wise to seek legal counsel. An experienced eviction law attorney can review the details of your dispute and better ensure your interests are protected.