City Council introduces package of tenant-harassment bills

If written into law, landlords could pay bigger civil penalties for violations

Melissa Mark-Viverito (Credit: Getty Images)
Melissa Mark-Viverito (Credit: Getty Images)

Members of the City Council are pushing a package of bills that would expand the definition of tenant harassment and increase penalties on shady landlords.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito introduced the bills last week along with members Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca, Ritchie Torres, Helen Rosenthal and Jumaane Williams, Gothamist reported.

Among the proposed laws is a bill that would create a “rebuttable presumption,” which would mean a tenant would not have to prove intent in order to bring a harassment claim against a landlord in court.

Other proposed changes include counting harassment actions aimed at multiple tenants as “repeated” harassment, and allowing a court to consider “non-rent fees” on a rent bill as a harassment tool designed to make a tenant leave their home.

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Bills in the package would also raise civil penalties for Violations And Create An Avenue for Housing Courts to award statutory, compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees and costs for harassment cases.

Levine introduced a bill that would classify visiting or contacting a tenant “repeatedly” during unusual hours as harassment.

“It is perfectly reasonable and legal for landlords to offer tenants buyouts, but a subset of unscrupulous landlords have gone further and repeatedly, insistently, aggressively early in the morning, late at night, pushed these offers that makes these tenants feel like they have no choice,” he said.

The city earlier this year said it was planning to set aside an additional $93 million over the next year to provide free legal access in Housing Court to tenants facing eviction. [Gothamist]Rich Bockmann