Governor Cuomo Signs Bill Protecting Rent-Regulated Tenants From Landlord Harassment

Real Estate In-Depth | December 2019

New York Attorney General Letitia James

ALBANY—New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed on Dec. 4 legislation (A.6188/S.2605) protecting rent regulated tenants from landlord harassment by preventing landlords from creating unsafe, disruptive or uninhabitable conditions in order to force tenants out of their homes.

The previous law only provided protections to tenants who could demonstrate physical injury and failed to take into account the conditions caused by the landlord, state officials said. The measure, a program bill advanced by Attorney General Letitia James, builds on the new tenant protections signed into law by Gov. Cuomo. A program bill is legislation introduced by a legislator on behalf of the governor, the Attorney General, the Comptroller, or by state departments and agencies.

“Safe and affordable housing is a fundamental right, and we are proud to have enacted the most aggressive tenant protections in New York State history,” Governor Cuomo said. “I thank Attorney General James for her advocacy on this measure, which holds bad actors accountable and further strengthens existing tenant protections. With this signature, we’re taking one step closer towards a safer, fairer, and more affordable New York for all.”

“For far too long, unscrupulous landlords have gotten away with subjecting rent-regulated tenants to dangerous and inhumane conditions in an attempt to force them out of their homes,” Attorney General James said. “Today that changes. Tenants will no longer have to meet an unreasonably high bar to demonstrate that they are being harassed. Instead, we will ensure that landlords will face justice when they intentionally subject their tenants to unsafe, disruptive, or uninhabitable conditions, such as exposing them to hazardous materials, shutting off heat and hot water, or using construction to make buildings deliberately uninhabitable.”

The bill’s sponsors were State Senator Liz Krueger (D-28) of Manhattan and State Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-50) of Brooklyn.

The new Class A misdemeanor for harassing a rent regulated tenant is committed when a landlord attempts to force out a tenant by making their accommodations uninhabitable or purposefully creates or maintains a condition that risks the safety, health and comfort of the tenant. This measure also broadens the definition of the existing class E felony offense to include conduct by a landlord that seeks to force out two or more rent regulated tenants by making their accommodations uninhabitable or purposefully creates or maintains a condition that risks the safety, health and comfort of the tenant. Finally, multiple convictions for misdemeanor conduct under these new provisions within five years will permit prosecutors to charge the repeat offender with a class E felony.

This legislation fulfills a key component of the Governor’s Justice Agenda, as well as builds on the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 – enacting the most aggressive tenant protections in state history.

Senator Krueger said, “Over the years I have heard far too many horror stories from my constituents about the harassment they have suffered at the hands of unscrupulous landlords trying to drive them out of their homes. Until now, it has been nearly impossible for criminal charges to be filed against even the worst offenders. As of today, the law will be updated to protect tenants and give them a fighting chance, and to safeguard our dwindling stock of affordable housing.”

Assemblymember Lentol added, “The harassment of tenants in order to force them out so the landlord can raise the rent has been a rampant and unconscionable problem. This bill takes a stance against landlords who puts profit over people. Many tenants are forced out under the guise of necessary repairs, but this bill will go a long way to protect tenants from such harassment and help keep individuals and families in their home.”

The new law was praised by a number of tenant advocacy organizations. “Tenant harassment is all too commonplace among predatory, speculative landlords in New York,” said Jim Markowich of Tenants Taking Control. “I know firsthand how dangerous and harmful this type of harassment is and because landlords have historically faced small penalties and no criminal enforcement, there is little incentive to change these destructive practices.”