Real estate industry says tenants’ rights bill will clog courts

By Jen Benepe | March 03, 2008 05:01PM

Real estate lawyers and lobbyists say a newly-passed bill that allows tenants to sue landlords for harassment would jam up the court system. 

The bill, which the City Council unanimously passed last Wednesday, must be signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It allows tenants to sue landlords for harassment, which can include incessant buy-out offers by owners eager to turn low-performing units into high-end rentals, the bill’s sponsors said.  

Adam Leitman Bailey, an ALB Law PC attorney who represents both landlords and tenants, said the bill was “irresponsible” and would unleash a flood of frivolous cases.

Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito, one of the co-sponsors of bill 627-A, disagreed, saying the vast majority of Housing Court cases are initiated by landlords.   

“It is a great day in the city when we can provide added protection for tenants against over-aggressive landlords who intend to force them out,” she said.

Another co-sponsor, Daniel Gardonick, said the bill “responsibly balances [tenants’] rights with safeguards for landlords from tenants who may try to overreach.”

Several council members say they are receiving more complaints from residents who claim they are getting pestered to move or have had services denied repeatedly as a way to force them out.      

Bloomberg is expected to sign the bill, which the Housing Preservation and Development department endorsed with minor changes at two public hearings. But Bailey, the real estate attorney, said the mayor might think twice because the city will need “a new court house to accommodate all the new cases.”

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents
the city’s rental property owners, and The Real Estate Board of New York opposed the bill.

“We call it the landlord harassment bill,” Steven Spinola, REBNY’s president, told The Real Deal for an article in its February issue.  

Spinola had said that the Housing Preservation and Development department should first provide evidence of a violation before a tenant can sue for harassment.

The final bill clarified that tenants should not be able to sue while a landlord is attempting to fix service interruptions or problems, said Mark-Viverito.

The final bill also eliminated one and two-family homes from the harassment designation.