Unscrupulous landlords, uncertain tenant support

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In April 2017, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman unveiled legislation that’s designed to reduce the hurdles in New York City’s laws that prosecutors face to charge apartment landlords with harassment of tenants. Unsurprisingly, this problem exists across the country.

Tenants can go to code-enforcement officers for help. Unfortunately, those officers can be swayed by landlords from performing their public-service duties. David Kagle of Legal Assistance of Western New York suggests the following when a tenant solicits the aid of a code-enforcement officer.

You should keep a record of any contacts that you have with the code office or in regard to repair requests. In this way, “a tenant will be able to show that subsequent [inappropriate or illegal] action by a landlord may have been in response” to the tenant’s complaint, Kagle says. “A written request for inspection [by a code-enforcement officer] will also assist in documenting such efforts, in case the code officer does not initially respond to the request.”

Kagle explains that when a code-enforcement officer visits the premises, a tenant should identify and demonstrate to him/her any condition that the tenant believes doesn’t meet code requirements. “If the heat does not sufficiently warm the entire structure, the tenant should have a thermometer to show the interior temperature and allow the code officer to compare that temperature to a thermostat setting.

“There are excellent code-enforcement offices that enforce housing standards consistently and fairly and require landlords to promptly make needed repairs,” Kagle adds. “However, we have seen code-enforcement officers simply refuse to visit properties ... and other officers order properties to be vacated needlessly. Others warn tenants that if they come out, they will post a property [as being unfit to occupy] and order them to move.

“The best of these officers document defects and require timely repairs. The most ineffective contribute to the helplessness and homelessness of low-income individuals and families,” Kagle concludes.