Measure Would Fine Unscrupulous Landlords, Prevent Housing Discrimination
Washington, DC –Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) was joined today by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in introducing new legislation aimed at addressing problems in the Section 8 housing program. Flanked by New York City tenants, housing advocacy groups and other elected officials, Velázquez announced the “Landlord Accountability Act”, a measure to protect tenants, particularly those in the Section 8 program, from unscrupulous behaviors by landlords.
“Throughout New York, we’ve heard of landlords allowing units to fall into disrepair with the goal of displacing lower income tenants and then renting apartments for greater profit,” Velázquez said. “My bill would protect residents of Section 8 buildings and other properties from these unconscionable abuses, while holding unscrupulous landlords to account.”
“Every family deserves a safe place to call home,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “But for too many families, rising rents and stagnant incomes are making it harder and harder to find – and to hold on to – a decent place to live. We need the Landlord Accountability Act to protect Section 8 tenants across New York State from discrimination and to make it easier for struggling families to find safe, affordable places to call home.”
Recent media reports have documented instances where landlords neglect Section 8 eligible apartments, causing them to no longer qualify for a voucher. By removing units from Section 8, this practice essentially raises rents on lower income tenants, forcing them from their homes. To help address this, Velázquez’s legislation would establish monetary penalties if landlords take actions, or neglect to act, with the intention of disqualifying their units for federal housing programs. Landlords could be fined up to $100,000 for violations by the government and face a second set of fines of $50,000 with revenue going to the harmed tenants.
“It has become clear that many of these landlords understand only one thing -- money,” Velázquez added. “With this bill, if they try to force tenants from their homes, we’re going to hit dishonest companies where it counts – in their pocketbooks.”
Velázquez’s bill would extend other assistance to aggrieved tenants. The measure would establish a new Multifamily Housing Complaint Resolution Program to receive complaints, investigate and attempt to resolve disputes through mediation. Complaints received through the new program would be made publicly available.
With New York facing a growing crisis in affordable housing, the bill would expand the availability of affordable housing by ending discriminating against tenants with a Section 8 voucher. As more than half of New York City renters are now considered “rent burdened”, it is increasingly difficult for working families to secure affordable apartments. The legislation would for the first time ban housing discrimination based on a tenant’s use of a housing voucher.
“You cannot legally discriminate against a potential tenant based on race, religion or gender and this same protection should extend to a potential tenants’ income,” Velázquez added.
Beyond assisting Section 8 voucher holders, the bill would direct federal resources to local programs that benefit other tenants. A new $25 million grant program would steer resources to local agencies that provide aggrieved tenants with assistance and legal advice. Locally based initiatives like New York City’s Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force could apply for this federal support.
Velázquez has been active in several recent landlord-tenant disputes throughout New York’s 7th Congressional District. In March, she wrote a company accused of allowing units at a Ridgewood complex to fall into disrepair. The Congresswoman also helped support Chinatown tenants whose landlord was accused of neglecting buildings in an effort to convert the properties into luxury buildings.
Velázquez’s bill, which she will officially introduce in the House later this week, has garnered support from a wide range of advocacy groups including: Make the Road NY; Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A; Urban Homesteading Assistance Board; Legal Aid; Los Sures Housing Corporation; Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, Inc.; the Black Institute; Families United for Racial and Economic Equality; the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors; Community Service Society; Fifth Avenue Committee; Neighbors Helping Neighbors; Asian Americans for Equality; Churches United for Fair Housing; Tenants and Neighbors; New York Asian Women's Center; Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation; Grand Street Settlement; New York Communities for Change; Cabrini Immigrant Services; St. Nicks Alliance; National Alliance of HUD Tenants; VOCAL-NY; and the Urban Justice Center.
“Housing is a basic human right,” Velázquez added. “We must speak with one voice in opposing landlord abuses and standing up for our most vulnerable neighbors. I am honored to have such a broad coalition supporting the Landlord Accountability Act.”
A detailed summary of the Congresswoman’s legislation is available online here.