Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 4, 2014

Affordable Housing Preservation in NYC

By David Reiss

Leaders of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A have released a white paper, Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan:  The Most Important Housing Plan in NYC History? Just to get the suspense out of the way, they pretty much feel that it is. But they do push the Mayor to pay more attention to the preservation aspect of his Housing Plan. They write,

Based upon our experience, representing the low-income tenants we serve, we have observed that rent decontrol is often brought about by predatory actions from landlords to push protected tenants out of their apartments in order to reach decontrol status. In 2013, over 30,000 New York City families were displaced from their homes. Without access to free legal services, many of these families had to represent themselves in Housing Court and were unable to fight the predatory and often illegal actions that made them lose their homes. The most recent reports from the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services commissioned by the Chief Judge of the State of New York stated that 99% of tenants are unrepresented in eviction cases in New York City. The need for legal services is very real, and without increasing the very limited resources available for such services the fight for preserving affordable housing will almost certainly not be successful.

Brooklyn A’s attorneys are constantly witnessing how this perfect storm of rising housing values and limited supply of affordable housing can impact low-income communities. In many neighborhoods landlords are more incentivized than ever to try and push out rent protected tenants by any means necessary, so that they can void the rent protections and bring in new tenants willing to pay the inflated market price. We are currently representing tenants from a building whose main waterline, boiler and gas meters were destroyed in the middle of the night, only a short time after the tenants refused offers by their landlords to get bought out of their apartments. In another recent case the landlord shut off all heat, hot water, and sewage in the building to provoke a vacate order to force the rent-stabilized tenants out. The tenants had to live in emergency Red Cross shelters for a period of time because they lost their home; including one who had lived at the building for thirty years. Unfortunately, these are just a couple of examples of increasingly common practices by landlords to violate and then deregulate those apartments. (2, footnotes omitted)

During earlier run ups in real estate prices, landlords seeking to make a quick profit were known to send in thugs with baseball bats and pit bulls to frighten tenants, particularly elderly tenants, so that they would move and make the apartments available for tenants who would paid higher rents. The predatory equity that has been documented in NYC in the last decade has used less obviously threatening behaviors such as “repairs” that lead to long term loss of utilities and frivolous filings in housing court. But the goal is the same — get rid of tenants paying low rent-regulated rents.  Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A is right to focus on the role that legal services attorneys can play in protecting existing affordable housing in a cost-effective way.

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