State Lawmakers Pass Legislation Criminalizing Tenant Harassment
State lawmakers recently passed the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which amends the state’s Penal Law to lower the legal bar to prove harassment against owners. Previously, criminal charges couldn’t be pursued unless prosecutors could prove that the offending owner intended to push tenants out of their homes and that those residents incurred physical harm due to the property owner’s deliberate actions. With this legal standard, not a single landlord had ever been convicted of the crime of harassment of a rent-regulated tenant in the state, according to analysis by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services of data from the state Attorney General’s office.
The new bill eliminates the need for attorneys to prove that a tenant has suffered physical injury. It also creates a new class A misdemeanor, the most serious misdemeanor classification, that would apply to an owner, who with intent to force a tenant out of his unit, acted in a way that “impairs the habitability” of the housing or is reasonably likely to “interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet” of a tenant in his home. The offense carries a sentence of up to one year of jail time.
Class E felony offenses were also expanded under the bill to penalize owners who make a concerted effort to push out two or more tenants in separate rent-regulated apartments by making units unlivable with a penalty of up to four years in state prison. The legislation also makes it a class E felony for an owner to commit the new class A misdemeanor after the owner has already been convicted of that level of crime.