Ask Sam: Our landlord won't recognize our tenant association. What can we do?
I am the chairman of my building’s newly-formed tenant association, but our landlord does not want to acknowledge us. Are there any legal remedies for this situation?
Statutes in the Real Property Law state that tenants have the legal right to form tenant associations, but there are no laws on the books that formally compel landlords to acknowledge them, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“These statutes protect the rights of tenants to form tenant associations, publicize them, and meet in common areas of the building, and their landlords can’t interfere or retaliate against them for doing so,” Himmelstein says. “But in terms of forcing the landlord to recognize the association, there doesn’t seem to be a remedy.”
There is legal precedent for tenant associations to initiate HP proceedings against landlords, which compels them to repair issues or violations in a building. These legal petitions can also be filed if a landlord is harassing tenants.
Simply failing to acknowledge a tenant association probably doesn’t qualify as harassment, but if you believe your landlord is retaliating against you and your neighbors for forming a group, you can take action in the courts by filing an HP proceeding.
Retaliation might take the form of the landlord trying to substantially raise the rent of market rate tenants at lease renewal, not making repairs when they’re requested, doing disruptive construction at late hours, filing baseless lawsuits, pressuring tenants to accept buyouts or threatening and intimidating tenants in other ways. A landlord who refuses to renew the leases of market-rate tenants who have formed an association could also be guilty of retaliation and possibly harassment.
Under 2019’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, a landlord who attempts to evict a tenant within a year of their joining a tenant association is considered to be retaliating, and the landlord must provide a credible reason for the eviction. You can read more about what qualifies as harassment.
“In and of itself, there’s not much you can do about him not recognizing your association, except keep insisting he do so and acting as a group,” Himmelstein says. “Make a record of your meetings, and put things in writing. Write the landlord a letter pointing out the statutes that give tenants the right to create associations, and tell him he’s acting illegally by ignoring it.”
Whether or not your landlord acknowledges your tenant association, there are still many compelling reasons to maintain one. And should a more serious issue arise in your building, you will have strength in numbers to address it.
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.