New York City’s Tenant Protection Act protects tenants from landlord harassment but is balanced to stop frivolous claims by tenants. Landlords have a pecuniary interest in evicting tenants residing in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments. While there are tenants who illegally sublet their regulated apartments for a profit while they live elsewhere, there are also instances where innocent tenants find themselves being harassed by their landlords. The Act protects tenants who are being harassed by landlords looking to evict them.
There is a lot of money at stake. Once the rent for a regulated apartment exceeds $2,000 a month, the landlord is free to charge market rents, which can be hundreds or even thousands more than the regulated rent. The fastest way for a landlord to increase the rents is to evict a tenant. A landlord who evicts a tenant living in a rent-stabilized apartment can get a 20% vacancy increase from the next tenant in a two-year lease. He can also get a monthly increase equal to one-fortieth of any renovations performed during the vacancy. For instance, a $4,000 set of hardwood flooring nets an increase of $100 a month until the apartment becomes deregulated. Otherwise, the landlord would have to settle for annual increases of less than 10% for a two-year renewal lease.
Landlords have to resort to the legal system to evict a tenant, rent-regulated or otherwise. Landlords cannot turn off the utilities to an apartment or change the locks to settle a dispute with a tenant. A tenant who is being harassed by their landlords now have the option of filing a claim in Housing Court under New York City’s Tenant Protection Act (TPA). Landlords who harass tenants can be penalized between $1,000 to $5,000 for each offense. The law bars landlords from using force or making threats against a tenant, repeated or prolonged interruptions of essential services, using frivolous court proceedings to force an eviction, removing the possessions of a lawful tenant, removing doors or damaging locks to a unit, or any other acts designed to disturb a lawful occupant’s residence.
The Tenant Protection Act is balanced to protect landlords from baseless claims by disgruntled tenants. Landlords may be awarded attorneys fees if a TPA claim is frivolous. And if a landlord has three harassment allegations dismissed a ten year period, a tenant will then have to receive approval from a judge to file another harassment claim.
We have seen landlords harass tenants by not accepting rent. They either stop coming around to accept rent, or they refuse to deposit rent checks. The landlord eventually files a nonpayment eviction proceeding. Tenants who find themselves in this situation should send their rent by certified mail to their landlord, keeping the mailing receipt and a photocopy of the rent check. If the landlord keeps refusing the certified mail, keep the returned letter as evidence. Be wary. Sometimes landlords will cash all the checks at once. If the checks bounce, they will sue for nonpayment.
Tenants who believe they are being harassed by landlords should consider filing a claim under the Tenant Protection Act.