By Devon Kennedy, NAG intern
Last week I attended a Tenants’ Forum in Greenpoint at the Polish National Home. The event was sponsored by the local organization St. Nick’s Alliance, along with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The attendees, mostly residents of the area, sat in the auditorium while various speakers shared information that tenants should know. Many of the speakers emphasized a common theme: that tenants have certain rights that they are often not aware of, and that city policy requires landlords to treat tenants fairly. Headphones were available that allowed people to hear live translations into Spanish and Polish.
One lawyer talked about rent stabilized housing. In rent stabilized housing units, the rent cannot be increased by more than a certain small percentage each year. The percentage is determined yearly by the Rent Guidelines Board, and this year, it is a historic zero percent. Another lawyer mentioned that the law prohibits landlords from harassing tenants, trying to drive them out, or withholding utilities. He said that tenants who are in situations like these should call 311 if communication with the landlord does not solve the problem.
A few speakers talked about housing court, where tenants can file suits against landlords if they cannot settle disputes (lack of utilities, unsafe conditions, etc) with the landlord directly. A landlord is not allowed to evict a tenant without being authorized to do so in housing court.
One woman, introduced as a fair housing advocate, told the audience that it is illegal for a landlord to treat tenants differently due to their race, nationality, gender, or other similar traits. A man from the City Commission on Human Rights spoke about how landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations that make their buildings accessible to elderly people and people with disabilities. Council Member Stephen Levin spoke at the end, affirming that everyone deserves to live somewhere with dignity.
Representatives from various city agencies and organizations had set up tables around the edge of the room. When the speakers were finished, attendees could walk around and talk to the people at the tables or pick up flyers for more information. Here are links to some of the agencies and organizations that can help with housing-related issues:
NYC Housing Preservation and Development: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/index.page
NY State Homes and Community Renewal: http://www.nyshcr.org/ (rent info email address: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fair Housing NYC: http://www.nyc.gov/html/fhnyc/html/home/home.shtml
NYC Commission on Human Rights: http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/html/coverage/housing.shtml
Housing Court Answers: http://cwtfhc.org/for-tenants/#legal-services-nyc