Residential landlords often get off easy for failing to provide basic services for their tenants or fix violations at their buildings.
The New York Times reviewed 126 housing court cases from last year involving serious building-wide issues and found that in a majority of the cases, the city settled for less than 15 percent of penalties available under the law. The median settlement was $4,000, meaning the city left some $4.7 million in civil penalties on the table.
Even landlords who are caught lying about making repairs don’t face steep fines. One landlord who filed 40 certifications with the city falsely claiming violations had been corrected in rent-regulated buildings was hit with $2,750 in fines. Some officials, however, are concerned that increasing penalties could prolong these court cases and ultimately hurt tenants.
“Our primary mission has been and will continue to be ensuring New Yorkers live in safe and secure homes, which is why we concentrate our efforts on correcting conditions for tenants,” said Matthew Creegan, a spokesperson for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He said the agency continues to “develop new tools to aggressively combat tenant harassment.”
The city repeatedly sued landlord Hamid Khan for violations at his buildings. For one of his buildings at 520 West 136th Street in Harlem, he only had to pay $5,000 to settle violations out of a possible $200,000. One tenant in the building, Felix Salazar, who also sued Khan, said conditions were so bad that rats had eaten his pet parrots.
According to the Times, the city has lost more than 152,000 rent-regulated apartments since the early 1990s. This year the city launched the Certification of No Harassment Pilot Program, which requires landlords to certify that tenants haven’t been harassed before getting construction permits for big alterations. [NYT] — Kathryn Brenzel