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Projects, Units & Initiatives

Housing Justice Unit-Group Advocacy

The Housing Justice Unit-Group Advocacy works on behalf of tenant groups or associations, HDFC coop boards or shareholders, and community groups to prevent tenant displacement, enforce tenant rights, and promote community stability and advancement.

Our Impact

Tenants in a 23 unit building in the Mott Haven part of the Bronx, one train stop away from Manhattan, and located in an area that is quickly gentrifying, came to our Bronx office inquiring about legal assistance for a gas outage in their building. The gas had been shut off earlier that month without notice and the landlord refused to provide hot plates. The building is mainly comprised of working class families with many minor children and senior citizens. All of the units in the building are subject to rent stabilization. The tenants were also greatly concerned about harassment from the landlord who threatened to call ICE on them.

Legal Aid staff began by sending a letter to the landlord outlining the tenants’ concerns about the lack of cooking gas and other severe conditions. We also filed a rent reduction complaint with DHCR which was granted. We then assisted the tenants in filing an HP action regarding the conditions in the building and landlord harassment. Shortly after filing, HPD issued an additional 70 housing code violations on top of the original violations. During the pendency of the HP proceeding, the gas was restored and the number of open HPD violations was reduced to 51. Our clients are open to settling their claims in exchange for the landlord making the remaining repairs and offering an abatement.

Concurrently, due primarily to the lack of gas, tenants throughout the building began withholding their rent. The landlord responded by bringing a series of nonpayment cases against our clients. In defending against these charges, Legal Aid staff discovered a series of irregularities in the rent amounts charged by the landlord. These included: extreme unexplained jumps in rent above the amount allowed by the rent guidelines board; taking highly suspicious yearly vacancy rent increases resulting in hundreds of dollars of rent increases per unit; and, registering IAI “improvements” for the units with no physical proof that the improvements were ever made. These issues are currently being litigated separately in Bronx Housing Court.

In addition to the above described issues, The Legal Aid Society has assisted our clients in applying to certain eligible subsidies in order to prevent future eviction and have also negotiated succession leases on behalf of some of the tenants.

The Legal Aid Society brought a class action case on behalf of current and former tenants of two buildings in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, under the Fair Housing Act, NYC Human Rights Law, NYC Housing Maintenance Code and the Rent Stabilization Laws. The suit alleged that for over a decade, Latino tenants were subject to racially motivated harassment in an effort to drive the long term Latino tenants out of their low-rent or rent stabilized units so that the landlord could illegally deregulate the units and substantially raise the rents. The landlord was also accused of harassment against newer deregulated tenants, who didn’t have the benefit of rent stabilization protections. In addition, we alleged the landlord had successfully displaced long term Latino tenants through this campaign of harassment and had successfully displaced newer deregulated tenants by simply refusing to renew the leases of anyone who tried to exercise their basic tenant rights.

We sought a finding that the landlord violated the Fair Housing Act and Human Rights Law. While our primary objective was to protect the long term Latino tenants, we also sought to restore the illegally deregulated units to rent stabilization, a mechanism to monitor these units for several years thereafter, and to get former Latino tenants the right of first refusal to any vacant apartments going forward. Through a preliminary injunction, we successfully obtained relief for the entire class with regard to current tenants, getting the landlord to stop its pattern of harassment and baseless evictions. The Court denied the landlord’s motion to dismiss which led to a settlement in which the landlord agreed to stop harassing all tenants in the buildings, give the tenants rent regulated leases and re-regulate the units, and to follow the rent stabilization laws for several years with careful monitoring by The Legal Aid Society, another non-profit, or the court. Ultimately, affordable units were added back to the market, further displacement of tenants in the buildings was prevented and improperly or illegally displaced tenants were restored to their apartments.

Our clients have resided in this four story, five unit building in East Harlem for several years. The property is in a neighborhood that is experiencing intense gentrification, new luxury rental developments and massive apartment deregulation. There are 326 HPD issued housing code violations and the building registration hasn’t been valid since 2016. The building has had an absentee landlord for several years. After the previous building owner died, multiple entities claimed ownership of the building. One of these entities began holdover eviction proceedings against all of the tenants in occupancy. In preparing our defense of the tenants, we learned that the previous owner had created a sixth apartment in the building’s basement for the then superintendent. As such, we raised the defense that the premises were subject to rent regulation and our clients could not be evicted without cause because of their rent regulated status. We also sought to remove all violations of record and force the landlord to provide on-going services.

Legal Aid staff then successfully secured a stay of all of the housing court cases, while the ownership of the property was litigated in a concurrent Supreme Court proceeding. The Housing Court proceedings were subsequently dismissed due to the non-appearance of the alleged landlord. The Legal Aid Society is now preparing to file an Article 7A petition to ensure that there is a responsible entity providing maintenance and services to our clients while the ownership issues continue to be litigated.

The legal Aid Society represented Ms. P in a nonpayment proceeding. Ms. P resided in a rent stabilized apartment with her husband and two young children, ages 16 months and 10 years. Ms. P had a preferential rent of $1450; however, when her lease expired, the landlord revoked the preferential rent and offered her a lease at the legal rent, an increase of nearly $600. The legal rent was unaffordable for the family, and Ms. P did not sign the new lease. In settling the nonpayment, we were able to negotiate a one-year lease at the prior monthly rent of $1450, thereby preserving the affordability of the apartment, and assisting the family in applying for a one shot deal. The settlement included an agreement to pay the arrears (no judgment) and an agreement to make repairs within 30 days.

Staten Island
Ms. H is a single mother of two residing in Staten Island with income from public assistance. She was approved for a Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy to move into a rent-stabilized apartment. A few years later, her landlord offered her a renewal lease with an illegal increase of over $200. On advice of counsel, Ms. H did not sign the lease and the landlord commenced a holdover proceeding based on her refusal to do so. Staff from The Legal Aid Society’s Housing Justice Unit-Group Advocacy filed a motion to dismiss based on the improper lease renewal offer and received a decision dismissing the case against Ms. H with prejudice.

Legal Aid staff met Ms. R after she and her three children (2 minors) had been evicted from their Staten Island HUD-subsidized apartment in which they had resided for the past 15 years. The landlord started a non-payment case against her. She went to the management office shortly after being served and paid all of the rent that was due. She did not file an answer to the case and the landlord obtained a default judgment and a warrant. A few months later, she fell behind in her rent again and the marshal evicted her using the warrant it had previously obtained. The Legal Aid Society represented Ms. R on her post-eviction Order to Show Cause and argued that the eviction was improper because the rent sought in the petition had been paid and the warrant obtained based on that petition could not be used to evict Ms. Renaud for rent owed currently. The judge agreed. The judgment and warrant were vacated and Ms. R and her family were immediately restored to possession.