Tenant Organizing Manual
If an owner engages in an on-going and consistent pattern or course of action that is meant to force tenants out of their apartments, tenants should file harassment complaints.
In addition, if a tenant is sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by the building owner or other building personnel, whether or not the intent is to force the tenant out of the apartment, s/he should file a harassment complaint.
There are five governmental agencies that are empowered by State or City laws to handle different types of tenant harassment complaints, as follows:
- New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal
- Manhattan District Attorney's Office
- New York City Corporation Council (NYC Law Department)
- New York State Attorney General's Office
- New York City Commission on Human Rights
Tenants in both rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments can file a harassment complaint with DHCR if they can prove that the owner:
"...engaged in a course of conduct (not limited to interruption or discontinuance of essential services) which interferes with/disturbs; is intended to interfere with/disturb use of occupancy...has intent to vacate units or demolish structure, failure to secure vacant units or public portions of the building, or decrease, discontinue, interrupt, interfere with essential services."
Section 61-b and Section 74-b of the Rent and Eviction Regulations
To make a harassment complaint with DHCR, the tenants' association should ask all of the tenants in the building to complete the (pink) DHCR "Harassment Form." Contact LHNA or DHCR for bulk copies of this form. The association should make arrangements to help those tenants who may have difficulty in filling out the form.
Since the space for writing is small, the association can attach a detailed cover letter that includes your documentation. This includes documenting the lack of services, letters you may have received from the owner, the dates, specific names, comments that the owner or the owner's employees may have made to the tenant(s), etc. This letter must show that there has been (or is) an attempt on the part of the owner to force the tenants to vacate their apartments.
NOTE: The DHCR Harassment Unit will NOT take complaints if they are limited to lack/decrease of services. The complaint should also include other issues, such as owner returning rent checks, refusing to renew leases, etc. If the complaint forms and the letter do not show that the owner is trying to get you out of your apartment, DHCR will refer your complaint to the unit that handles lack of service complaints.
All of the forms completed by the tenants should be collected by the person designated by the association, and with the cover letter they should be sent together to:
DHCR Enforcement/Compliance Unit
156 William Street
New York. N.Y. 10038
The Enforcement/Compliance Unit will review the forms and if based on what was submitted they find that the complaint is warranted, they will send you, within three weeks, a docket number. Harassment complaints have a docket number with a suffix of "HL."
Within five weeks, you will be notified that an "INFORMAL CONFERENCE" has been scheduled between the tenants and the owner, and you will be given the name and telephone number of the DHCR attorney who will mediate the conference.
All of the tenants involved in the harassment complaint should meet and select a spokesperson who can present all of the documentation submitted in the complaint form and cover letter, on behalf of the tenants. Each tenant who filed a complaint form may be asked to speak, so it may be helpful if the group holds a "practice-session."
During the informal conference, each side will be asked to speak, but there is no cross-examination. The DHCR attorney will ask the owner to(e.g.) make the repairs necessary within a certain period of time, accept rent checks, offer renewal leases, etc.
If the owner agrees, it will be up to the tenants to monitor if (e.g.) the repairs are made. If the repairs are not made, the tenants should contact directly the DHCR attorney who mediated the informal conference.
Most harassment cases filed with DHCR are settled during the Informal Conference stage. (Several "Informal Conferences" may be scheduled before an agreement is reached). If an owner agrees to make the repairs, generally DHCR will consider the case closed.
If there is strong evidence that the owner intends to force the tenants to move, DHCR will prepare for a formal hearing. This can take months, if not longer. If DHCR orders a hearing and makes a finding of harassment against the building owner, they will fine the owner based on the seriousness of the harassment. (This money goes to the State, not to the tenants).
In addition to monetary fines, DHCR has the authority to set any or all of the following penalties against an owner:
- reverting rent-stabilized apartments to rent controlled status
- lien placed against the building for a period of time
- ineligibility for J-51 benefits, etc.
Both tenants and owners have the right to appeal the DHCR decision through an Administrative Review process.
In cases of "criminal harassment" with the intent to coerce tenants into vacating their apartments including,
- PHYSICAL ASSAULT including SEXUAL ASSAULT
- EXTORTION or
- CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT ANY OF THESE CRIMES
tenants should FIRST file a police complaint indicating the circumstances and who was involved. Tenants then should contact the:
Office of the Manhattan District Attorney
Special Housing Unit
100 Centre Street, 7th floor NYC 10013
Criminal harassment can be difficult to prove. Tenants must show evidence that there was criminal intent on the part of the owner or his/her employees and should be prepared to give the names of the tenants involved, the name of the building owner, the dates and times incidents have occurred, dates and complaint numbers of police reports, and any civil litigation numbers.
The Special Housing Unit looks for patterns in the building, such as change of ownership or management, deterioration of the building, lack of services, a rash of criminal activity, tenants moving out, landlord application for alteration or demolition, bribes to tenants, non-compliance with court orders. etc.
The D.A.'s office will determine if, in fact, violations of the criminal code have been committed. If the case is accepted, the unit will begin to gather evidence and conduct its own investigation to prepare for prosecution.
In cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment by the owner, superintendent, managing agent, etc. and whether or not the intent is to force the tenant out of the apartment, tenants should also file a complaint with the NYC Commission On Human Rights. (See below)
The 1982 New York City Local Law on "WARRANTLESS EVICTIONS" (illegal evictions) states that it is a criminal act for an owner to:
"...use or threaten to use force to induce the occupant to vacate a dwelling unit... to engage or threaten to engage in any conduct which will prevent the occupant from lawful occupancy ...not limited to removing the occupant's possessions from the dwelling unit...removing the lock..." (Amendment to the NYC Administrative Code)
Tenants who are victims of such actions should contact:
NYC Corporation Council
100 Church Street, NY. NY. 10007
Generally called the "illegal lock-out law", this law prevents an owner from changing the lock on your apartment door and not giving you a key, removing your possessions from your apartment, or threatening to do so by force without going through the legal eviction proceedings in Housing Court.
Tenants should call the police immediately if they are illegally locked out of their apartment. The police responding to the call will ask for proof that you are a legal tenant in the apartment (i.e. lease) in order to stop the illegal lock-out. This law also applies to tenants who have lived in Single Room Occupancy hotels at least 30 days and tenants in 1 or 2 family homes.
All cooperative and condominium conversion plans must be approved by the Real Estate Finance Bureau of the New York State Attorney General's Office. There is usually a 4-6 month review of each plan, including an assessment of whether the owner or developer has complied with tenant protection laws.
Tenants receive a copy of the preliminary offering plan and have the opportunity to respond. A CONVERSION PLAN CAN BE REJECTED IF EVIDENCE OF HARASSMENT IS FOUND, INCLUDING EXCESSIVE WAREHOUSING OF APARTMENTS.
Harassment complaints, or reports of excessive warehousing of apartments (more than 10% of the units in the building) related to buildings converting to cooperative or condominium ownership should be reported to:
NYS ATTORNEY GENERAL
REAL ESTATE FINANCE BUREAU
Two World Trade Center
While the Attorney General's office will try to investigate any harassment charges, it is the tenants who must provide documentation for their claims. If possible, affidavits should be obtained from former tenants who moved as a result of harassment prior to the conversion plan.
The Attorney General's Office may take legal action against the owner and initiate affirmative steps to stop the harassment, delay or deny the plan. The Attorney General also has some discretionary powers to impose penalties and fines.
Complaints related to discrimination in housing, employment, and places of public accommodation because of RACE, CREED, COLOR, NATIONAL ORIGIN, SEX, AGE including FAMILY COMPOSITION, PHYSICAL DISABILITY, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, PRIOR CONVICTION RECORD and SUBSTANCE ABUSE should be made to:
New York City Commission on Human Rights
52 Duane Street
New York, N.Y. 10007
HOTLINE: (212) 964-7000
In March 1986, an administrative judge ruled that sexual harassment in housing situations is a form of discrimination, thus enabling tenants to seek redress through the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Such sexual harassment can include actual attacks (physical or verbal), or suggestions, threats or innuendoes that repairs, required services, or the granting of an apartment will not be made unless the tenant (generally single women, or women who are heads of households) complies with the sexual advances of the owner or other building personnel. Whether or not the intent of such sexual harassment/discrimination is to force a tenant out of the apartment, a complaint should be filed with the Human Rights Commission.
Tenants who have been discriminated against through sexual harassment should document the incident(s) including the time, place, names, and details. A complaint should be filed with the Human Rights Commission, which will then investigate the complaint and determine if there is merit. Cases accepted by the Commission will be followed through by court action, and all expenses of the hearing will be paid for by the city.