CTRC Fact Sheet Index

TenantNet note: These Fact Sheets were published by CTRC in the mid-1990's. Some information will be out-of-date. As far as we know, there have been no updates to these fact sheets. While much of the information may still be valid, the reader should exercise caution.

CTRC Fact Sheets -- reproduced with permission.
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The Community Training Resource Center (CTRC) is a city-wide not-
for-profit organization that champions the rights of modest and
low-income tenants and promotes the preservation, improvement,
and expansion of affordable housing. CTRC provides training and
technical assistance for neighborhood housing groups, community
based organizations, legislative staffs and social service
providers.

CTRC produces fact sheets on tenants' rights, develops and
publishes research reports, and provides a written guide to New
York City government processes. CTRC advocates on budget policies
that affect housing and related services in low-income
neighborhoods. CTRC has led the campaign for the improvement and
expansion of the city's Housing Maintenance Code inspection and
enforcement services.
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CTRC Fact Sheet #003

THE RIGHTS OF TENANTS UNDER THE UNLAWFUL EVICTIONS LAW

In 1982, the City Council of New York passed the Unlawful
Evictions Law, a local ordinance making it illegal for any person
without a court order to evict, or attempt to evict, a tenant who
either has a lease or has lawfully occupied a dwelling unit for
thirty or more consecutive days. The law also applies to tenants
protected under the hotel stabilization provisions of the rent
stabilization law where the tenant has made a request for a
lease.

Subtenants, roommates and relatives are also protected by the
Unlawful Eviction Law. These occupants do not have to be on the
lease or have made direct payments to the landlord to be
protected. He or she, however, must have lived there for at least
thirty consecutive days.

Through police intervention, possible arrest, and the imposition
of substantial criminal and civil penalties, the law discourages
unlawful evictions. Illegal evictions or lock-outs are a fast and
effective means of displacement of tenants by owners. The
Unlawful Evictions law is designed to deter such unlawful abuse.
Given the shortages of available housing and the conditions in
much of the city's housing stock, landlords who deny due process
to tenants and evict without a court order, deprive them of a
very basic human need-affordable housing.

What follows is an outline of the circumstances in which the
Unlawful Evictions Law is applicable. Suggestions for invoking
this legal protection, securing enforcement, and ways in which
communities can support such enforcement, will be outlined.


What is an Unlawful Eviction?

1.   Using or threatening to use force to get the occupant to
     vacate.

2.   Interrupting or threatening to interrupt essential services
     such as heat, electricity or water.

3.   Removing the occupant's possessions from the dwelling.

4.   Removing, plugging or making the entrance door inoperable.

5.   Changing the entrance door lock without giving the tenant(s)
     a new key.

6.   Engaging in any other conduct that:

     a.   interferes with or is intended to interfere with.
          comfort, peace or quiet in the occupancy of a dwelling
          unit, or

     b.   causes or is intended to cause, an occupant to move out
          of a room or apartment before the occupant would have
          had the landlord's conduct not driven him/her out.

7.   Failing to take reasonable steps to restore an occupant who
     has either moved out or been removed from a dwelling unit,
     after being requested to do so, is a violation of the law
     if:

     a.   the owner committed the unlawful eviction

     b.   knew or had reason to know about the unlawful eviction

     c.   the unlawful eviction took place at least seven days
          before the tenant made the request to reoccupy


Who can be Charged with Violating the Law?

Any person, company or corporation directly or indirectly in
control of a dwelling. This includes:

1.   Owner/landlord

2.   Superintendent, janitor, or repair person

3.   Building managing agent

4.   Doorman

5.   Primary tenant who has entered into an agreement with a
     subtenant


What Does the Tenant do in a Lock-out Situation?

1.   The tenant should go directly to the local police precinct.
     Dialing 911 is not adequate!

     If the officer on duty is not responsive to the problem, the
     officer should be referred to Police Guide Procedure Number
     117-11. If the officer is unaware of the law or is unwilling
     to respond to the lock-out, the Desk Sergeant should be
     contacted.

2.   The tenant should not leave the police station without being
     accompanied by an officer back to the premises.

3.   If additional advocacy is necessary, a community
     organization or legal services office should be contacted.

Although documentation of the tenancy is not required by law, it
can be extremely helpful to present any of the following
documents to the police when seeking their assistance in this
situation:

1.   Leases

2.   Rent receipts

3.   Mail addressed to the occupant at the building in question

4.   Statements of non-involved parties such as neighbors

5.   If the landlord has a history of harassing the tenant, it is
     helpful to have written documentation of past incidents,
     violations, and court actions. This type of information adds
     credibility to the tenant's statement.


What are the Police Required to do?

1.   The police should accompany the tenant back to the building
     and insure that the tenant regains occupancy: the violator
     should then be issued a summons.

2.   If the tenant is not let back in, the person responsible for
     the lockout should be arrested.

3.   A summons or arrest is also appropriate where the tenant has
     been forced out through deprivation of services or
     harassment.


How to Get Legal Help?

A local community organization may not only be of help in dealing
with the police, but may also help in obtaining legal
representation from a Legal Services or a Legal Aid provider. The
organization might be familiar with the offending landlord and be
able to pressure him to put the tenants back into their
apartment.


Legal Services and Legal Aid Representation

Housing attorneys for low income tenants consider an illegal
lockout a priority for tenant representation. The legal
representative or the locked-out tenant must file an Order to
Show Cause and supporting affidavit to recover possession of the
apartment. Currently, motions for possession are not routinely
given priority attention in all of the city's Housing Courts.
Delays pose a danger in that they could give the offending
landlord an opportunity to re-rent the apartment before the
locked-out tenant has the chance to get an Order of Possession
from the court. All orders to show cause should ask the judge to
stay the landlord from re-renting the apartment until the case
has been resolved.


Private Attorney

Tenants who are not eligible to be represented by Legal Services
or Legal Aid, should consider hiring a tenant attorney. The
relatively high cost of representation is generally outweighed by
the permanent loss of the tenant's long term, affordable home and
the cost of finding and paying for a new, and inevitably a more
expensive, apartment.


New York City Corporation Counsel

The Corporation Counsel of the Law Department of the City of New
York, is authorized to prosecute unlawful eviction cases under
Section 26-521 of the NYC Administrative Code. It can seek from
the court injunctive relief to stop continuing or future
violations. Any civil penalty imposed by judgement upon an owner
may become a lien on the property to prevent a sale before a case
is satisfied.

However, the corporation counsel has not been, and is not now,
very active in prosecuting unlawful eviction cases. Tenants are
advised that individual legal action is the best way of fighting
an eviction violation.


New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR)
(Enforcement Unit)

A regulated tenant has the right to bring charges against a
landlord who has engaged in a pattern of behavior designed to
force the tenant to vacate his dwelling. Such behavior may be
found to be "harassment" under the regulatory laws and DHCR's
Enforcement Unit, upon such a finding is empowered to take
injunctive action against the landlord and/or levy monetary
penalties.

Unfortunately, the Enforcement Unit is generally ineffective in
defending tenants against harassment. Tenants must be prepared to
assert themselves in order to move their case from an
administrative hearing to a judicial proceeding.


Judicial Findings of Unlawful Eviction: Tenant Options

1.   The tenant may refer the case to the District Attorney's
     office in the appropriate county for consideration of
     criminal prosecution.

2.   The tenant may initiate a plenary action for damages in a
     court of record including treble damages and attorney's
     fees.

In the end, as with almost all matters concerning the legal
rights of tenants, it is the burden of the tenant to pursue a
legal resolution in the matter of an unlawful eviction. From any
perspective, however, the single most important goal is for the
tenant(s) to get back in possession.

Community housing organizations and legal service providers,
knowledgeable about tenants' rights and techniques of enforcing
them, play an invaluable role in protecting such intolerable
abuses as forceful, unlawful evictions, thereby helping to
preserve affordable housing and defend the stability of their
neighborhoods.

                               ###

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These article are Copyright 1995 and 1996 by Community Training Resource
Center (CTRC) and reproduced by TenantNet. They may be freely
redistributed in their entirety provided they are reproduced exactly
as in the originals, including this copyright notice, the opening and
closing informational banners and any references to either CTRC
or TenantNet must be included.

These article are provided as is without any express or implied
warranty. While any information in these article is believed to be
correct at the time of writing, these articles are for educational
purposes only and do not purport to provide legal advice. If
you require legal advice, you should consult with a legal
practitioner licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Community Training Resource Center                (212)964-7200
47 Ann Street
New York, NY 10038

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