By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Rent stabilized tenants often feel they’re at the mercy of landlords who would, if given the opportunity, replace them with someone paying market rate. Contributing to that fear in some cases that have recently attracted some media attention are specialists who are hired by owners and have used what local elected officials are calling unscrupulous tactics to get tenants to leave, with no regulations on their practices.
In an attempt to protect tenants from aggressive buy-out offers or other efforts aimed at intimidation, Councilmember Dan Garodnick introduced a bill at the end of February that would impose certain restrictions on these so-called “tenant relocation specialists.”
“Tenants need to be able to feel safe and secure in their homes and that is impossible if they’re being pursued relentlessly by someone whose job is to get them out,” Garodnick said. “They’ve used harassment, false offers and intimidation to remove tenants who are usually rent stabilized so that owners can financially benefit.”
The bill outlines a number of rules that these specialists would have to follow, including licensing and taking an exam to make sure they are knowledgeable about the rules and laws.
The specialists, if attempting to get a tenant to take a buy-out offer, would also be required to give tenants the offer in writing when first meeting them and would give tenants the right to refuse the offer without being contacted again.
“(The bill) gives the tenants some rights and the option to say ‘no, go away and don’t come back,’” Garodnick said.
It would also create penalties for specialists who don’t follow the rules. They would have to post a $50,000 bond in case the rules are not followed and agencies applying for a license would have to put up a $75,000 bond. If specialists violate the rules, there would be fines between $1,000 and $10,000 and the ability to lose their license.
Garodnick said that his office works with tenant advocates on a regular basis and through this relationship have learned about the dishonest tactics employed by landlords, which prompted the bill.
“We’ve heard far too many stories of building owners hiring relocation specialists for enormous sums, hired to get tenants out of their apartments,” he said.
As Town & Village reported last week, Councilmember Rosie Mendez also recently introduced a bill that aims to curb tenant harassment.
“It’s mostly a coincidence that we introduced these bills around the same time,” Garodnick said, adding, “other than the fact that these issues are always affecting tenants.”