Photo: Angelica Frey

Photo: Angelica Frey

“Unscrupulous landlords” beware. This morning Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the creation of the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force at a press conference in Downtown Brooklyn.

“[The Task Force] is a partnership of city and state agencies, very simply designed to investigate, sue, and when appropriate prosecute abusive landlords to stop the harassment of tenants,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, addressing the crowd at South Brooklyn Legal Services.

“For too long, unscrupulous landlords found a way to navigate. If they could not get away with something one way, they would get away with it another way,” the mayor added.

The officials pointed out New York City is experiencing a tsunami-like real estate boom in all five boroughs, particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation at South Brooklyn Legal Services, remembers that when he started out, his work was focused on gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods like Park Slope. “But we’ve now seen the problem metastasize to virtually every neighborhood in Brooklyn, from Bushwick to East New York to Flatbush and Crown Heights,” he said.

Similarly, Attorney General Schneiderman claims that the real estate boom is not like the booms we’ve experienced before. “My father grew up at Park Place and Utica [Avenue] in East New York, and when I tell people in the family who left, who are not in New York anymore, that this is hot real estate, they think I’m hallucinating,” he said.

In this scenario, 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. As the press release explains, 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.

Donna Mossman, a member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union, told stories of tenant suffering that included no heat or hot water, collapsed ceilings in every room, cracks along the walls and ceilings, floors that shifted due to continuous poundings of renovations, no running water from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a daily basis, demolition and rebuilding of apartments seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and thugs sent to terrorize tenants.

Not surprisingly, the “g word” was used profusely during the conference. “This phenomenon of gentrification occurred so quickly that I think, for all of us, we’re still catching up with the impact,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who then added that “we,” as a city, have not had the right conversation about gentrification. “We haven’t sorted out what it means, both positively and negatively,” he said.