Tenant harassment bill hits governor’s desk

Legislation would make some actions by landlords a crime

TRD New York /
Nov.November 26, 2019 02:36 PM
From left: Assembly member Joseph Lentol, Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Senator Liz Krueger (Credit: Getty Images)

From left: Assembly member Joseph Lentol, Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Senator Liz Krueger (Credit: Getty Images)

Back in April — two months before overhauling New York’s rent stabilization law — the state legislature passed a bill that expands the definition of what is considered criminal tenant harassment. But in the seven months since, the governor hasn’t signed it.

Now, with a little more than a month to go before the end of the year, the bill has landed on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. Under state law, he has until December 7 to sign or veto the measure. If he doesn’t act, the bill will automatically become law.

The legislation would expand the definition of felony harassment of a rent-regulated tenant to include owner actions aimed at making an apartment uninhabitable or unsafe, or that disturb the “comfort, repose, peace or quiet” of the tenant’s living experience.

Under the current law, tenants must prove that harassment led to physical harm. The bill, which was originally proposed in 2017 by then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, also creates a related misdemeanor-level offense for harassment. (Schneiderman resigned in 2018 after being accused of abusing several women.)

It could not be determined why it took so long for the bill to be delivered to the governor. Cuomo signs bills in batches, and according to his office, nearly 300 of the more than 900 bills that passed at the end of the last legislative session remain under review by his counsel and the Division of the Budget.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that the bills, as written, are responsible, enforceable and accomplish their intended purpose,” Caitlin Girouard, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement. She wouldn’t comment on whether the governor intends to sign the bill.

Sometimes Cuomo calls for bills to be delivered to him immediately, as he did when the rent-law overhaul passed in June. On that occasion he signed the bill right away, as its predecessor expired June 15. Had the harassment legislation been folded into the larger rent bill, it could have been enacted then.

But including it would have been a gamble, said Assembly member Joseph Lentol, one of the harassment bill’s sponsors: Its provisions could have ended up on the cutting room floor during the two-way negotiations between the Senate and Assembly.

Lentol said in an interview last week that he did not know why his bill hadn’t yet been sent to the governor and expressed concern that Cuomo would ask for last-minute changes to it. On Tuesday, his office said Lentol is hopeful that the governor will sign the measure.

“This changes the law so that if [the owner] damages the apartment itself, it then can be a felony depending on the conditions,” he said. “It’s something that has been happening all too often these days and a lot in my district.”

Construction was used by some landlords to create vacancies in rent-regulated apartments, which formerly allowed for a 20% rent increase. That provision was wiped out by the June reform bill.

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