Landlords largely dodge charges for illegal eviction claims

Only 39 arrests made for unlawful eviction in 2020, 2021

(iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
(iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

New York City’s eviction moratorium sent tensions between landlords and tenants to a boiling point, but thousands of illegal eviction claims were met with inaction from police.

State court data shows the NYPD made 39 arrests where unlawful eviction was a top charge in 2020 and 2021, The City reported. Police also issued 131 criminal summonses during that period, significantly less serious than an arrest.

The arrests and summonses are a miniscule share of the amount of allegations. Tenants filed 2,642 cases for illegal lockouts, according to information from the Housing Data Coalition. More than 16,000 tenants sought relief for problems including illegal lockouts, lack of repairs, harassment, disruption of services or an uninhabitable apartment.

In New York City, landlords cannot evict a tenant without first pursuing the case in Housing Court. Landlords who attempt to evict tenants themselves by harassment, cutting utilities or changing the locks can be jailed for up to a year. The NYPD is responsible for enforcing those laws.

But rather than making arrests, the NYPD often kicks issues to Housing Court, which City Councilmember Shekar Krishnan called “abysmal.”

“When you’re illegally locked out or evicted, getting back in is one of the hardest battles you could fight as a tenant,” Krishnan told the outlet.

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When authorities do execute arrests, criminal punishment for landlords using dirty tactics is absent. According to The City, all but three of the arrests where unlawful eviction was a top charge the past two years were either dismissed or dropped by the district attorneys; the remaining three are still pending.

As for the criminal summonses, only one person pled guilty in 2021 to unlawful eviction, resulting in a $100 fine. About 47 percent of criminal summonses for the charge were dismissed, according to the City, while another 44 percent are pending.

The picture reportedly varies by borough. The Manhattan DA told the outlet the office prosecuted 20 cases in the past two years, four of which are still open. The Bronx DA prosecuted 11 cases since 2018, resulting in one guilty plea; four cases are still pending. The Staten Island DA hasn’t prosecuted a single case since 2019, while the cases prosecuted in Queens and Brooklyn are unclear.

Unlawful eviction is considered a Class A misdemeanor, but arrests appear to be more likely when tenants also allege crimes like trespassing and assault, according to The City. Similar to the case of one Corona couple who told the outlet police didn’t help their neighbor who reported harassment, the lack of police support has discouraged some from calling authorities altogether.

[The City] — Holden Walter-Warner

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