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City permits tenants to sue their landlords

"This bill is not just another tool in the fight to preserve affordable housing, it will allow more people to feel safe in their homes," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), addressing a rally last week on the steps of City Hall after the signing of the Tenant Protection Act.Tenants had been limited to taking their landlords to Housing Court only for violations relating to the physical condition of their apartments or failure to provide essential services like hot water or heat. The previous law did not define a pattern of harassment.The newly passed act, Local Law No. 7, in contrast, creates a violation for harassment in and of itself, providing a new layer of protection for renters. Some actions that qualify as harassment under the new legislation include using force or making threats against a lawful occupant, repeated or prolonged interruptions of essential services, using frivolous court proceedings to disrupt a tenant's life or forced eviction, removing a lawful tenant's possessions, removing doors or damaging locks to an apartment or any other act designed to disturb a lawful occupant's residence.The law also prevents similar actions by third parties working on the landlord's behalf.Civil penalties for judicial findings of harassment range from $1,000 to $5,000.The law also balances protections for tenants with safeguards for landlords. If a landlord has three harassment allegations dismissed by judicial proceedings over a period of 10 years, a tenant will then have to receive approval from a judge to file another harassment claim. Landlords may also qualify for a reimbursement of attorney fees if a claim is deemed frivolous.The bill was jointly introduced by Council members Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito, both Manhattan Democrats."This law gives tenants a fair chance to fight back by using the power of the law to counter the tools of intimidation," Garodnick said.When the legislation was introduced, Garodnick and Quinn told of visiting a Brooklyn lesbian couple "who had endured the worst imaginable actions from their landlord. They had their heat and hot water turned off repeatedly in the winter. They were verbally threatened and physically assaulted, their landlord stole their mail and refused to repair holes and leaks, even entering their apartment unannounced wielding a hammer."Housing advocacy agencies have reported rapidly rising numbers of people illegally forced out of rent-stabilized apartments.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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