Assembly Passes Bill Making Landlords Pay When They File False Claims Against Tenants

May 8, 2009

New York, NY – State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) announced that the Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that would require landlords to pay attorneys’ fees and damages when they challenge tenants’ residence in bad faith. The bill, A.473-A/S.748, is particularly aimed at cases where landlords assert in court that an apartment is not a tenant’s primary residence, without a good faith belief that the assertion is true. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).

Throughout New York City, landlords have increasingly brought court actions against tenants as a way of eliminating tenants’ rent-stabilization protections – even ignoring proof submitted by tenants establishing primary residency – and ultimately forcing these tenants to vacate their apartments. Kavanagh’s bill discourages this practice by giving landlords a strong disincentive to bring frivolous non-primary residence challenges.

“All too often landlords have relied on false primary residence challenges to intimidate and harass tenants and deregulate their rent stabilized units,” said Assemblymember Kavanagh. “We need to send a loud and clear message: Landlords can no longer exploit tenants by using bad faith court cases to harass them and create an atmosphere of fear.”

“I applaud the Assembly for passing this common sense legislation and look forward to moving it in the Senate,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “Some landlords have a pattern of acting in bad faith to bring eviction proceedings against tenants on the basis of non-primary residence. Some even use harassment as a business model. This bill will create a strong disincentive against baseless eviction attempts and will also protect tenants from having to pay attorney’s fees that they might not otherwise have been able to afford.”

“For too long, landlords have been using the legal system as a means to harass tenants. Constituents are frequently in touch with my office about completely groundless notices from landlords regarding violations of their leases or notices of lease non-renewal or termination. This legislation would strongly discourage landlords from harassing and intimidating tenants,” said Senator Thomas K. Duane (D, WFP, Manhattan). “These protections are important because tenants who respond to these false claims must retain legal counsel to defend themselves, often with no financial recourse unless the matter proceeds to court and there is a judgment against the landlord. For those who are wrongly accused, this can be both costly and cruel. It must end and this legislation will do just that.”

“Frivolous non-primary residence litigation takes an enormous toll on individuals and communities,” said Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick who has been working on non-legislative approaches to this issue and is also a sponsor of the bill. “In addition to placing great stress on tenants, it forces them to spend substantial time and money defending their homes. It also strains our already overburdened legal services system and housing courts.”

Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, also a sponsor, said, “I have heard of far too many cases where tenants have been harassed by landlords who claim that the tenants must leave because their apartment is not their primary residence. In most of these cases, the landlord has been accepting the tenant’s check – and right to live in the apartment – for years. The landlords’ profit-motivated turnaround is completely unacceptable. We must do everything we can to discourage greedy landlords who are interested only in monetary gain by getting rid of their rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants. Such landlords must pay a price for harassing the law-abiding occupants of their apartments.”

“It’s bad enough that tenants have been forced to go through an intimidating legal process, and that landlords have created a culture of fear – those tenants should not also be on the hook for costly and unnecessary legal fees,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by over 20 legislators, now goes to the Senate Housing, Construction, and Community Development Committee. Assemblymember Kavanagh is also working with Senator Tom Duane on Bill A.3912/S.5367, which would address false allegations other than primary residence challenges, as legislators seek to lessen the burden of bad faith legal challenges on New York City’s tenants.