Ramona Santana knows when she’s not wanted. Two years ago her landlord offered her $5,000 to get lost, she said. That was after a fire she calls suspicious damaged one apartment in the building a few blocks south of Fordham University where Santana and much of her family have live for 25 years.
“I told him no. I’m not going anywhere. I have the hospital right near me, my clinic,” she said in a voice still heavy with the accent of her native Puerto Rico. When the landlord wouldn’t renew her lease she brought him to housing court. “I have a paper from the judge. It says he’s supposed to bring to me my lease in 30 days. But he don’t want to bring me my lease. He won’t give me that lease. He wants me gone,” she said.
Santana believes the landlord’s delay in renewing her lease, the fires, the monetary offer if she vacates her home and the vandalism and poor repairs in her building are all part of a campaign to chase out long time tenants with low stabilized rents – in favor of higher paying tenants.
But Santana ain’t going anywhere. Except to City Hall that is. Santana intends to join scores of other tenants and their supporters at noon today on the steps of City Hall to celebrate the passage of an anti-tenant harassment bill.
The new law will make harassment itself an offense over which tenants can take their landlords to housing court. She’ll be in the Blue Room when Bloomberg signs the bill into law at 1 p.m.
Santana twice testified in favor of the legislation, introduced by Council members Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“It’s good because (Bill No.) 627 protects tenants and landlords. Some landlords do too much harassment for the tenants. The tenants need protection,” she said Wednesday night.
Tenants can currently bring complaints against their landlords for failing to make certain repairs, for heat and hot water complaints and sundry other offenses and can obviously file a criminal complaint if a landlord threatens them physically. But each offense is separate. Tenants and housing rights advocates argued that in many neighborhoods across the city landlords wage concerted campaigns against their subsidized and rent stabilized tenants, hoping to chase them away in favor of higher paying new comers.
The piece-meal system of adjudicating each heat and hot water violation or each instance of a broken elevator doesn’t address the real problem, the staff attorney for South Brooklyn Legal Services argued in testimony before the council in December. Instead tenants need a mechanism to call out landlords who are trying to push tenants out with a campaign of harassment.
The council agreed. At 1 p.m. Bloomberg will sign Local Law 7, making harassment of tenants for the purpose of encouraging them to vacate their apartments an actionable housing code violation. The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of 90 neighborhood housing organizations, said tenant harassment is a significant problem for its members.
“As market rents continue to rise in neighborhoods across the City, there is more and more incentive for landlords to use non-legal methods to push out tenants who are paying less then the market will bear,” the association said in a statement. “Harassment is a major contributing factor to the rapid loss of the City’s affordable housing stock, including the de-regulation of 13,000 apartments each year. Many unscrupulous landlords buy buildings with the expectation that they will be able to maximize their profit by using harassing tactics to push out existing residents.”