Two competing bills pertaining to tenant and landowner harassment are dividing the City Council and sparking debate about how to balance the rights of the two groups.
Under legislation introduced by council members Daniel Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito, tenants would receive new legal protection against harassment by landowners, including physical and verbal threats, and the deliberate withholding of services.
Officials from the Bloomberg administration testified in support of Mr. Garodnick's bill, saying it would give tenants a new ability to seek restraining orders that would stop landlords from harassing them. Currently, city officials said, landlord violations such as withholding services have to be processed separately, sending tenants back and forth to housing court. The new law would create stiffer penalties.
While Speaker Christine Quinn yesterday described the bill as "a historic step forward for tenants and for the preservation of affordable housing," landlords are against it, saying it would lead to frivolous lawsuits, and clog the courts.
"The proposed legislation is extraordinarily broad and, at the same time, extremely vague," the vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, Marolyn Davenport, said yesterday, testifying at a public hearing. "This vague language will result in an avalanche of frivolous suits."
Two critics of the legislation, council members Leroy Comrie and Thomas White Jr., are sponsoring a separate bill that would allow landowners to sue tenants for harassment, and require the city government to review tenants' claims of harassment before they went to court.
Mr. Comrie said at yesterday's hearing that he feared "long protracted cases" would bankrupt small homeowners.
Mr. Garodnick said his bill, which would give landowners the ability to block harassment proceedings if tenants had filed two frivolous suits in the past, already took the issue into account.
"We were careful to try to be fair to landlords," Mr. Garodnick said in a phone interview.
Mr. Garodnick's bill has more than 30 co-sponsors, giving it a strong chance to pass.