With housing remaining one of the “it” issues of the early 21st century, three elected officials have connected to combat landlord harassment of tenants.

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of a new joint enforcement task force to investigate and bring action against landlords who harass tenants. Officially titled the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, the three elected officials have a significant task ahead of them.

Since 2011, tenant harassment complaints have nearly doubled, with landlords allegedly using an array of strategies to try and force tenants into leaving rent-regulated apartments through methods such as renovation and construction projects that affect the quality of living.

“Every New Yorker deserves a safe, affordable and decent place to live,” said Cuomo in a statement. “Working with our partners in the state and city, and building upon the success of the Tenant Protection Unit, we will further crack down on unscrupulous and unlawful practices, and ensure that tenants’ rights remain protected.” 

The new task force will be called on to conduct joint cellar-to-roof inspections, coordinate enforcement actions and speed the prosecution of predatory landlords, particularly those who purposefully distress properties as a form of harassment to displace tenants and deregulate rent-stabilized apartments.

“We won’t sit idly by while bad actors push out the families that have built our neighborhoods,” said de Blasio in a statement. “With the state and city combining efforts, we can prevent displacement and help tenants stay in their homes. Combined with the free legal representation we’re providing to thousands of tenants, this new task force will add muscle to our fight against tenant harassment and our efforts to protect rent-stabilized apartments.”

In the past, when an owner neglected a building and purposely allowed it to fall into disrepair, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New York City Department of Buildings would use their power to enforce compliance with housing and building codes, with cases involving harassing and rent regulation handed to the New York Division of Homes and Community Renewal Tenant Protection Unit, created by Cuomo in 2012. The group was founded to investigate landlord patterns and practices of harassment and illegal profiteering. So far, the New York TPU has recaptured more than 37,000 unlawfully deregulated apartments and returned them to rent regulation.

The plan has gained the praise of elected officials in New York City, including Council Member Jumaane Williams. The chair of the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee believes the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force will be “an important step to combat bad-actor landlords.”

“In addition to this anti-harassment goal, it is my hope that the task force will work to provide solutions that address our affordable housing crisis,” said Williams in a statement. “It is imperative that our city and state elected officials meet this crisis with absolute urgency before our rent regulations expire this spring. Otherwise, initiatives like this task force will not have the desired impact. Albany must not only renew our rent regulations, but must strengthen them to ensure thousands of New Yorkers do not see their rent go up or their protection against arbitrary evictions lost. We must also address the current 421—a tax exemption, which is a complete debacle and must be overhauled immediately.”