Letitia James proceeds with legal fight over bad landlords despite pushback

February 24, 2016 04:15PM

Public Advocate Letitia James is undeterred by critics who are pushing back over her legal authority to sue the city to affect change.

James filed 11 lawsuits — more than her predecessors — on behalf of tenants, schoolchildren and children in foster care. But a review of the litigation suggests that James lacks the legal authority to sue the city in some of those cases.

The duties of the public advocate are defined by the city charter as gathering information, hearing complaints and writing reports about city agencies.

The city’s corporation counsel is working to stop her involvement in other cases, Politico reported.

James sued the Department of Buildings and the landlords of an apartment building that tenants said was not adequately accessible for people in disabilities in February 2015. In June, her office filed suit against the city over alleged changes to a rent-freeze program aimed at seniors and the disabled.

In a lawsuit James filed against the Department of Finance on behalf of residents who said they were entitled to rent subsides inherited from deceased relatives, her office said it led to the department changing its practices. The case is currently in settlement negotiations, according to James’ office.

“Holy crap, she’s turned the office into a law firm,” Eric Lane, dean of Hofstra Law School, told Politico. Lane was counsel of the city’s charter commission in 1989 and helped write the provisions creating the public advocate’s office.

James’ “Worst Landlords” list —  it features property owners around the city who have racked up the most violations relative to the number of apartments they own — came under fire when it wrongly included a landlord. [Politico]Dusica Sue Malesevic