It is illegal for landlords to harass tenants in order to force them out of their apartments. Under the New York City Tenant Protection Act, harassment includes “the use of force or threats, repeated interruptions of essential services, the frequent filing of baseless court actions and other tactics that ‘substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet’ of any unit’s lawful occupant.” Here, “essential services” includes the basic necessities for households including electricity, hot water, and reasonable repairs and maintenance of the building.
A tenant who is sexually harassed or assaulted by the landlord or his/her agents whether or not the intent was to force the tenant out of the premises may also file a harassment complaint. Sexual harassment in housing context includes actual attacks (physical or verbal), or suggestions that the required repairs will not be made unless the tenant [usually single women or female head of a household] concedes to the landlord’s (or of the landlord’s agent) advances.
Harassment complaints are processed at the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) if the apartment is rent-stabilized or rent-controlled. If the apartment is not rent-stabilized or rent-controlled, the tenant may bring a legal action against the landlord in the Housing Court. Sexual harassment complaints should be filed at the New York City Commission on Human Rights in addition to the DHCR proceeding. In DHCR proceedings, landlords found guilty of tenant harassment are at first subject to a $2,000 fine, which may increase up to $10,000 in case of repeated violations. Also, the DHCR will permit no rent increases once there has been a finding of harassment until that harassment has ended. In Housing Court proceedings, the Court may issue a restraining order against the landlord if it finds that there was a harassment since harassment is a violation of the housing code.