Apartments Photo: David Merrett/Flickr

Last Thursday, The New York City Council passed three bills to protect tenants in rent-regulated units from harassment and threats from landlords offering “buyout” deals. The bills cover owner-tenant contact regarding buyouts and the definition of harassment concerning tenants.

In the city’s rent-regulated units, many landlords offer tenants money to vacate their apartments, a scheme known as a buyout. Some owners have engaged in intimidating behavior like delays in making repairs, threats of legal action or harassing messages to coerce tenants into accepting these offers.

Introduction 757-A was sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and amends the Housing Maintenance Code’s definition of harassment. The new bill makes it unlawful for owners to contact tenants about buyout offers within 180 days of a tenant notifying an owner that they do not wish to be contacted about potential buyouts.

During the 180-day period, the court needs to authorize a communication about buyout offers before the owner contacts the tenant, and the tenant needs to notify the court in writing that they are interested in receiving any potential offers. Mark-Viverito explained how the laws will impact the process.

“All of these laws will protect tenants and keep the process of buyout offers by landlords fair and honest,” she said. “New Yorkers who live in rent-regulated housing have the right to stay in their homes, and no one should feel pressured, intimidated or coerced to accept an offer they don’t want to take. With this legislative package, we will ensure that rent-regulated tenants are protected from harassment and coercion.”

Another new bill passed by city council clarifies Housing Maintenance Code’s definition of the word harassment. Introduction 682 was sponsored by Council Member Garodnick and makes it illegal for an owner to:

(1) threaten, intimidate, or use profane or obscene language

(2) contact tenants at such odd hours or with such frequency as to reasonably be expected to abuse or harass

(3) contact tenants at their place of employment without prior written consent

(4) knowingly falsify or misrepresent information provided to the tenant.

There are also new regulations concerning the content of buyout offers. Introduction 700-A, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, ensures that tenants are notified of their rights concerning these offers. They must be aware of the following:

(1) the purpose for the owner-tenant contact

(2) that they may refuse any offer made and may continue to occupy their dwelling unit

(3) that they may seek the guidance of an attorney regarding any offer made

(4) that such contact is made by or on behalf of the owner

(5) that they may refuse any further contact regarding a buyout offer for a period of 180 days, unless such contact is authorized by the court or if notified in writing by such tenant of an interest in receiving such communications.

Sponsor Jumaane D. Williams is Deputy Leader and Chair of the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee. He explained the importance of council action in matters of tenant rights.

“Our city cannot stand by while tenants are being harassed out of their homes. There are too many unscrupulous owners of rent stabilized buildings who will do anything to have a tenant vacate their apartment, including hiring a tenant relocator to get the job done. Tenants don’t deserve to be intimidated out of their homes, and should be informed of their rights to refuse buyout offers,” he said.

Follow @bbhnyc for the latest in New York City housing legislation.

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