City tenants hope to add to tenant victories with Comptroller’s help

Stephon Johnson | 2/27/2020, midnight
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer wants landlords to be required to alert tenants of their rights. Stringer called for ...
Housing/apartment Bill Moore photo

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer wants landlords to be required to alert tenants of their rights.

Stringer called for legislation to create a “Tenant Bill of Rights” that would keep a check on landlords who try to take advantage of tenants and possible tenants.

Under the Tenant Bill of Rights, landlords would be required to share critical information on housing protections with tenants including safeguards related to applications and security deposits; anti-discrimination; heat and hot water access; habitability; rental payments; evictions and renewals, and specific laws related to seniors.

Stringer’s proposed legislation would put the onus on landlords to do right by tenants.

Stringer said that the city needs to mandate that all tenants are empowered with a bill of rights at every lease signing.

“Affordable and secure housing is a basic human right. Knowledge is power, and the rights and resources generations of activists fought for should be accessible, clear and mandatory for every single tenant,” stated Stringer. “A Tenant Bill of Rights would enshrine key principles and mandate that landlords must provide all of their tenants with information that protects them against abuse and neglect—like charging illegally high security deposits at the time of lease-signing or not providing heat on a cold winter’s night.”

Some of the details of the proposed legislation include making it illegal for tenants to be charged a fee for an apartment application beyond a $20 charge for background and credit checks, limit security deposits to one month’s rent, a five-day grace period for late rent and protect tenants against discrimination based on a lawful source of income.

Tom Waters, housing policy analyst at Community Service Society, said that the law would make New Yorkers more aware of the power they have as tenants negotiating with landlords. He believes it should be written in plain text.

“At the Community Service Society (CSS) we have consistently argued that we need the state and city to make strong public outreach efforts to raise awareness of the new laws they pass if New Yorkers are going to benefit from these progressive reforms,” stated Waters. “Enforcement is largely driven by complaints. But New Yorkers cannot assert their rights if they are not aware they have them.

The tenant movement to call out bad actors made its way to state government this week as well. Tenants and homeowners from all over the state rallied in favor of the Good Cause Eviction bill and the Small Homes Anti-Speculation Act. The bills would protect tenants and communities against unfair evictions and unscrupulous real estate speculators.

The rally included New York State Senators Julia Salazar and Michael Gianaris; Assembly Members Pamela Hunter, Diana Richardson, YuhLine Niou, Catalina Cruz, Harvey Epstein.

“We need to protect and preserve our community,” stated Jessica Franco, a homeowner is East New York. “The Small Homes Anti-Speculation Act and Good Cause Eviction both aim to reduce the real estate speculation and the inflation of property values that are pushing both renters and homeowners out of their homes. It will help to ensure homeownership and rents remain affordable and attainable to working families.”

Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice For All, said that the city needs to build on the foundation set by Albany.

“The State Legislature passed the strongest tenant protections in New York State history last year, but without investment in tenant education and organizing, landlords are sure to undermine our new laws,” stated Weaver. “A Tenant Bill of Rights is a step in the right direction.”