Council bills take aim at tenant buyout offers

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council voted to pass a package of legislation meant to protect rent stabilized tenants from landlord harassment last Thursday. The three bills, one of which was sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, are all specifically related to tenants’ rights when owners offer residents money to vacate their apartment, known as a “buyout.”

“We introduced this bill last year to deal with the specific problem of harassment by tenant relocation specialists,” Garodnick said. “There is nothing governing these interactions between tenants and owners. I think what these bills do is take unscrupulous acts by those who are looking to drive tenants out of their apartments and call them what they are, simply harassments. We are defining the rules of engagement, of how tenants can be approached in this context.”

The bill sponsored by Garodnick would amend the Housing Maintenance Code’s definition of harassment to make it unlawful for a landlord, in connection with a buyout offer, to threaten, intimidate or use profane or obscene language, contact tenants at odd hours or with such a frequency that the behavior would be considered abusive, to contact tenants at their place of employment without prior written consent and to knowingly falsify or misrepresent information provided to the tenant.

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Legislation takes aim at ‘tenant relocation’ goons hired by owners

Council Member Dan Garodnick discusses new legislation inspired by complaints from Stuyvesant Town residents about lack of notice for inspections and non-emergency work in their apartments. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Dan Garodnick, pictured with Stuyvesant Town tenants at a press conference last week (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

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.

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