August 18, 2008
Landlord Lobby Files Suit Against Anti-Harassment Act
The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA) has filed a lawsuit against **Intro 627a – The Tenant Protection Act – in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn championed the legislation that combats landlord harassment of tenants and Mayor Bloomberg signed the anti-harassment legislation into law on March 12, 2008, while the RSA and other property owner groups vigorously opposed it.
Tenant groups and Speaker Quinn are calling for a **rally on the steps of City Hall for one o'clock, this Tuesday afternoon.
Speaker Quinn's office issued this statement:
"This attempt to overturn the Tenant Protection Act speaks to the absolute necessity of having this law on the books. Obviously, some landlords feel they need to protect a pattern of behavior designed for only one purpose - to get people out of their homes. This bill was the product of 14 months of thoughtful collaboration with tenants, advocates and landlords, and we are confident it will stand up to any legal challenge. Instead of forcing us to waste taxpayer money in court, landlords should use their resources to ensure full compliance with the law." (http://council.nyc.gov/html/releases/rsalawsuit.shtml)
The thrust of the RSA's suit against the nascent legislation is that City Hall does not have the right to expand civil court's jurisdiction, violating the The New York City Civil Court Act, passed in 1962. The act created the New York City Civil Court from two municipal courts and civil court became home to housing court; until 1962 tenant-landlord disputes were heard by criminal court judges.
The law now defines harassment as any act "intended to cause any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of a dwelling unit to vacate such dwelling unit or to surrender or waive any rights in relation to such occupancy." Acts specifically penalized are using force or verbal threats against tenants, discontinuance of basic services, frivolous lawsuits, illegal lockouts and removing entrance doors to occupied buildings.
(For background read: http://www.indypendent.org/2008/02/28/victory-for-tenants-as-harassment-bill-passes/)
The act permits tenants to take owners to housing court by filing an "Order to Show Cause" and having a judge order the landlord to stop the behavior. The judge can levy fines of between $1,000-5,000 for each apartment where harassment occurs and makes harassment a class "C" housing code violation.
Tenants and housing groups heralded the new legislation this past spring, but thus far few comprehensive anti-harassment cases have made their way through the court system. This could be because the first harassment test cases will be heavily litigated and many legal service organizations are wary of creating bad case law. In late winter's council committee hearings on the harassment bill, the RSA argued that the harassment bill would turn into a flood of frivolous litigation which has not been the case as of yet. It is not readily clear what merit RSA lawsuit has.**Legislation recently passed through years of advocacy by Make the Road New York and its coalition partners. 25 Make the Road members participated in the rally.
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