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Brooklyn tenants get their day in court - New Tenant Protection Act is signed

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Hundreds of tenants and housing advocates from across the city cheered as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn announced the signing of the Tenant Protection Act, a law that will allow tenants to take their landlords to court over harassment, on the steps of City Hall this past Thursday. “The days when landlord harassment goes unchecked, those days are over,” Speaker Quinn said. “Tenants will have the right to take their landlords to housing court. What I hope is that the courts are not overfilled with cases and that landlords hear the message.” Member organizations of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development’s coalition, as well as hundreds of tenants and community advocates, filled in the steps of City Hall for a rally in support of the Tenant Protection Act. Several prominent nonprofit groups from Brooklyn attended the rally, including St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation, Fifth Avenue Committee, Pratt Area Community Council, Flatbush Development Corporation, Bushwick Housing Improvement, and Make the Road New York, all of whom consulted on the bill. “I think harassment is one of the most significant problems of people living in Bushwick because Bushwick is one of the hot areas for real estate investment,” Angel Vera, a housing coordinator with Make the Road New York. “Bushwick has many rent-stabilized buildings and landlords who are doing investment in the Bushwick area. There are blocks with six-family buildings that have apartments empty for months and even years. Landlords are harassing tenants, waiting for people to leave, so they can either sell the building or do renovations and covert them to co-ops. The Tenant Protection Act, also known as Local Law 7, creates a class-C level violation for harassment for tenants to use in cases against their landlords. Before the law was passed, tenants were limited to taking their landlord to Housing Court for violations relating to the physical condition of the apartment or failure to provide essential services such as heat, water, or electricity. Tenants were expected to travel to Housing Court for each violation, even if there were multiple instances of harassment. “I started working in the city of New York as a tenant organizer,” Speaker Quinn said. “I saw then as we see now landlords targeting tenants by harassing them, at times by harming them physically. We are sick and tired of not being able to go to court to prosecute this behavior. It is simply wrong that tenants must take a landlord to housing court every single time the heat and hot water are turned off.” Councilmember Dan Garodnick of Manhattan, one of the principal sponsors of the bill, believed that the law will serve as a deterrent against bad practices committed by landlords throughout the city and will not necessarily flood the city’s housing courts with harassment cases. “The last thing in the world tenants want to do is be in Housing Court, and that’s only as an extreme measure,” Councilmember Garodnick said. Some of the actions that are considered harassment under this new law include making verbal or physical threats or using force against a lawful occupant, interruptions of essential building services, not performing repairs to the building, removing a tenant’s possessions, making the entrance door inoperable or removing the door entirely, or other acts that are designed to cause a tenant to give up their legal rights. Civil penalties for landlords demonstrating these types of harassment are expected to range from $1000 to $5000. “As a property manager, we understand the difficulties of dealing with renters,” Frank Lang, Director of Housing Property Management at St. Nicholas NPC. “The kind of activities this law protects the tenant from, no landlord would willfully engage in those activities.” Several tenants who spoke at the rally explained the different types of harassment their landlord used to force them out of their homes. Maria Quintanilla, a tenant from Bushwick and MRNY, described not having a working shower in her apartment, not receiving a new coat of paint, and having a bedbug infestation that has gone untreated for two years. “When I asked my landlord to do something about bedbugs, the landlord said I should collect them in a bag and eat them,” Quintanilla said. Councilmember Rosie Mendez of Manhattan has taken several phone calls from landlords in her district on the issue, but she feels confident that Local Law 7 will appeal to both tenants and landlords in the coming months “As we explained the bill to them, many did not have a problem with it. I think there were a lot of misconceptions with this law,” Mendez said. For groups like Make the Road New York, the next steps will be to explain to their constituents the details of law and the tools at their disposal to fight harassment. “Tenants should call 311 to tell the city that harassment is happening and take the landlord to court to fight the actions if the harassment continues,” Vera said.

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