(Photo: Tarika Roongsri)

Today Mayor Bill de Blasio signed three new measures into law to prevent the tenant harassment and shady practices that have become so commonplace among New York City landlords, particularly those who own rent stabilized units in rapidly gentrifying areas like North Brooklyn, the East Village, Bowery and the Lower East Side.

The new legislation outlaws aggressive buyout practices like the ones described in DW Gibson’s The Edge Becomes the Center, which are reportedly used to force tenants out of rent-regulated apartments with alarming frequency. A press release issued by the Mayor’s office today acknowledges that “owners have used unscrupulous tactics to pressure tenants out of affordable apartments so they can reap increases from the rent turnover.” The release sites several specific landlord strategies now made illegal by the law, including threatening tenants, harassing them at their workplace, and hiring “tenant relocators” to intimidate tenants into taking a buyout they’ve already refused.

Below are descriptions of the three laws, as outlined in the press release:

· Intro. 757-A, sponsored by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, makes it unlawful for an owner to make a buyout offer within 180 days of a tenant explicitly refusing one.

· Intro. 682-A, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, makes it unlawful for an owner, in connection with a buyout offer, to threaten a tenant, to contact tenants at odd hours, or to provide false information to a tenant.

· Intro. 700-A, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, makes it unlawful for an owner to make a buyout offer without informing tenants of their right to stay in their apartment, to seek an attorney’s advice, and to decline any future contact on a buyout offer for 180 days.

The penalty for violating the new laws range from $1,000 to $10,000 in fines for a first offense, to between $2,000 and $10,000 for subsequent offenses. “We won’t let tenants be intimidated and forced out of their homes,” said de Blasio. “These new laws protect tenants from harassment and aggressive buyout schemes and simultaneously help the City keep neighborhoods affordable.”

Council Member Rafael Espinal, Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, agreed that the city needs to crack down on dishonest tactics. “As the representative of Bushwick, where we are seeing hundreds of tenants lured and bullied to accept ridiculous buyout offers, I know firsthand the negative impact that it has on families and vulnerable individuals that are trying to hold on to the limited affordable housing stock in our community,” he said. “It is apparent that something needs to be done.”

A meeting of the Rent Guidelines Board June 29 (Photo: Nicole Disser)

A meeting of the Rent Guidelines Board June 29 (Photo: Nicole Disser)

The release said the city is taking the problem seriously and pointed to several recent measures as indicators of progress, including the recent rent freeze, an eight-fold increase in funding (to more than $50 million) for free anti-eviction services, and locked-in affordable rents for decades to come at 18,095 New York City apartments.