New Legislation Strengthens Existing Tenant Harassment Laws
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently unveiled new legislation aimed at holding unscrupulous landlords criminally accountable for tenant harassment. Current state law demands prosecutors reach a high bar in order to criminally charge landlords with harassment of rent-regulated tenants. According to the press release, this is why in the past 20 years, not a single landlord has ever been convicted of the crime of harassment of a rent-regulated tenant.
The legislation would change that, by setting a more reasonable standard that removes the need to prove physical injury to a tenant, and opens the door to prosecutions arising out of more commonplace and insidious tactics, such as turning off heat and hot water, exposing young children to lead dust, and making rent-stabilized buildings deliberately uninhabitable for current tenants and their families.
Under the existing Harassment of a Rent Regulated Tenant statute, a prosecutor must not only prove that the offending landlord intended to cause the tenant to vacate her home, but also that the tenant suffered physical injury due to the landlord’s actions and that the landlord actually intended to cause (or acted with criminal recklessness in causing) such injury.
The Attorney General’s legislation would eliminate the need to prove physical injury to a tenant, and a landlord’s specific intent to cause it, in order to secure a criminal conviction against an offending landlord. Specifically, the legislation:
- Adds a new class A misdemeanor that would apply to landlords and their agents who, with the intent to cause a rent-regulated tenant to vacate his home, engage in a “course of conduct” that is reasonably likely to, and does in fact, interfere with and disturb the comfort, repose, peace, and quiet of such tenant in the use of his home;
- Expands the existing class E felony Penal Law statute to make it unlawful for landlords or their agents to attempt to force tenants in two or more rent-regulated units to move out by engaging in a “systematic ongoing course of conduct” or “repeatedly committing acts over a period of time” that “is or are reasonably likely to interfere with and disturb, and does or do interfere with and disturb, the comfort, repose, peace and quiet” of such tenants in the use of their homes; and
- Makes it a class E felony for a landlord to commit the new class A misdemeanor offense after he or she has been convicted of that crime within the preceding five years.
The legislation is the most recent action taken by the attorney general to deal with the number of tenant harassment complaints across New York City. The attorney general’s other work includes:
- Launching a new team to enhance and streamline the office’s resources to combat tenant harassment, deceptive lending practices, deed theft, bank fraud, and other housing issues facing constituents.
- Charging landlords and management companies for alleged illegal practices to harass or endanger rent-regulated tenants.
- Filing felony charges against landlords who allegedly commit mortgage fraud or fraudulently refinance loans.
- Forming the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force with city and state officials.