By COLlive reporter
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of a joint enforcement task force, titled the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, on Thursday.
With tenant harassment complaints in Housing Court nearly doubling since 2011, the task force will investigate and bring enforcement actions – including criminal charges – against landlords who harass tenants.
Previously, different local government agencies responded separately when owners have neglected their buildings and allowed them to fall into extreme disrepair.
The new task force will conduct joint cellar-to-roof inspections, coordinate enforcement actions, and when necessary speed the prosecution of predatory landlords who purposefully distress properties as a form of harassment in order to displace tenants and deregulate rent-stabilized apartments.
Since its inception, the New York State’s Division of Homes & Community Renewal Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) has recaptured more than 37,000 unlawfully deregulated apartments, returning them to rent regulation.
In response to the booming New York City real estate market, particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, some property owners are using harassment to force current occupants to vacate their apartments in order fetch higher rents or convert rent-regulated buildings to luxury condominiums.
“The tactics these landlords use are unethical and illegal and we will not stand by while landlords attempt to profit off our displacement,” said Donna Mossman, a rent-regulated tenant and member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union.
Under rent regulation, when a tenant vacates a rent-regulated apartment, the owner can automatically increase rents by 20 percent, and further increase rents by making apartment improvements. If the rent gets higher than $2,500 per month, the apartment automatically exits the rent regulation system and rent can be raised dramatically.
The task force is executing unannounced and joint inspections of buildings in New York City where landlords and management companies are suspected of using construction as a means to harass tenants. Following multiple joint on-site property inspections, the task force agencies have already substantiated a number of tenant complaints and the task force has several on-going investigations. The member agencies will pursue evidence of illegal acts, and lodge enforcement actions.
Incidents of harassment include:
· Landlords operating without proper permits;
· Construction projects operating in violation of stop work orders;
· Landlords who openly ignore requirements for tenant protection plans in order to contain the spread of lead and/or asbestos which may be exposed during renovation;
· Landlords removing essential systems, such as boilers and venting systems, in order make life unbearable for existing residents.
Tenants should continue to lodge complaints to HPD and DOB through 311. They may also report complaints online at www.ag.ny.gov/complaint-forms.