Schneiderman Announces New Legislation to Criminalize Tenant Harassment

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaking at New York Law School. Image credit: CityLaw

Attorney General Schneiderman announces new legislation to crack down on rent regulated tenant harassment. On May 24, 2017, New York State Attorney General Eric. T. Schneiderman introduced the Tenant Protection Act of 2017. The new legislation is aimed at providing a criminal crack down landlords who harass their tenants. The legislation will be sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, and is another step in the Attorney General’s work regarding this topic.

In July 2016, Schneiderman created a team within his office to combat tenant harassment, deceptive lending practices, deed theft, bank fraud, and other housing issues. For CityLand’s coverage of the legal enforcement team, click here. Schneiderman has also been aggressive in going after landlords and management companies like Marolda Properties, click here.

Current state law requires prosecutors to meet high evidentiary bar to convict a landlord of Harassment of a Rent Regulated Tenant. A prosecutor must establish an intent to force a tenant to vacate their dwelling and an intent to cause physical injury to a tenant or that a landlord recklessly caused such injury. That crime has been on the books for twenty years and not one landlord has ever been convicted of the crime.

The Tenant Protection Act would add the crime Harassment of a Rent Regulated Tenant in the Second Degree. To establish the new offense, prosecutors would need to establish that the landlord intended to induce a rent regulated tenant to vacate by: (1) impairing the habitability of a dwelling, (2) creating or maintaining unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or (3) interfering with the comfort, repose, peace or quiet of a dwelling. The second degree crime would be a class A misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail. The current crime of physically injuring a tenant would be relabeled as Harassment of Rent Regulated Tenant in the First Degree and would still be a class E felony carrying a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison.

“The laws should protect tenants, not greedy landlords who make their buildings uninhabitable in an effort to force families out of their homes,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “It’s clear that our existing criminal laws are simply inadequate when it comes to protecting tenants from these dangerous tactics by landlords. We must give prosecutors the tools necessary to protect tenants – and stem the rising tide of tenant harassment that is undermining affordability around New York.”

“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. But as the law stands now, it is nearly impossible for criminal charges to be filed against even the worst offenders,” said Senator Liz Krueger.

At the City Council, the Committee on Housing and Buildings is considering a package of bills to strengthen tenant protections from harassment and increase City oversight of the problem. A hearing was held to consider the package on April 19, 2017. For CityLand’s prior coverage of this legislation, click here.

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

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