Renters, rejoice!

A new bill meant to hold New York landlords criminally accountable for harassing tenants was introduced today by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

It’s no secret that some landlords are less than easy to deal with. Because of high population and demand, New York City is a landlord’s playground. As a result, tenants are sometimes taken advantage of and suffer in shoddy living conditions.

But don’t get too excited about the new law. The Tenant Protection Act of 2017, if passed, would only help those who have rent-regulated apartments, which is about half of the city’s rentals 

The current state law has been in place for 20 years. In that time, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, no landlords have been convicted of harassing a rent-regulated tenant. This is due to a high burden of proof for the tenants to prove that their landlord purposefully inflicted physical injuries on them in addition to proving the intent to cause the tenant to vacate. Since this has been difficult for tenants to prove, they often find it necessary to prove other wrongdoings by the landlord, too.  

“Due to the high bar in the existing criminal tenant harassment statute, prosecutors often can successfully pursue serious criminal charges and tougher penalties against unscrupulous landlords only when there also is evidence of other serious crimes committed by the landlord,” Schneiderman said in a press release. “Given the prevalence of this type of behavior, the public demands and prosecutors need a stand-alone statute to curb this behavior.”

The bill would remove the need to prove physical injury and allows for landlords to be charged if they purposefully drive out tenants by turning off the heat and hot water, expose renters to hazardous materials like lead, and undergo prolonged construction that makes the unit virtually uninhabitable. It would also make it possible to sentence a guilty landlord for up to four years in state prison.

Joseph Lentol, the State Assemblyman representing Williamsburg and Greenpoint, said in a press release, “Their wrongdoings have escaped the scope of current criminal law. I look forward to working with Attorney General Schneiderman and my colleagues in the legislature to get this common-sense legislation passed.”

Schneiderman has filed lawsuits before against landlords in Chinatown and the Lower East side for “repeated illegal and deceptive practices,” and he has also reached settlements with landlords accused of attempting to displace tenants.

The new bill will be voted on by the State senate and assembly, but a date has not been set at the time of the announcement.