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Ask Sam: My landlord is verbally and physically harassing me. What can I do?

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Question:

My landlord has begun a serious campaign of harassment against me, destroying the plants on my windowsill, and standing below my window and screaming at me in the early morning hours. I believe he's trying to terrify me out of my apartment. What can I do?

Answer:

Your landlord's behavior constitutes serious harassment, and you should take him to court as soon as possible, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

"You need immediate relief from this situation," says Himmelstein. Assuming your apartment is rent-stabilized, you could file a harassment complaint with the DHCR, but those often take months to work their way through the system.

Instead, Himmelstein recommends filing what's known as an HP action, which is a method for seeking a court order against your landlord for poor conditions or bad behavior. "If you file an HP action, you're in court the next week in front of a judge," says Himmelstein. "The landlord may show up with a lawyer, or may show up himself, which in some cases could be good—if he can't control himself in court, either, the judge might get an idea of who he is."

In the lead-up to your court case, if there are further incidents with your landlord, try to take pictures or videos of the damage or record any of his outbursts so that you have concrete proof of the problem. "Some of these acts by the landlord-the destruction of your property and the early morning yelling- might also constitute criminal conduct and the police should be called if it happens again," says Himmelstein.  "A visit and warning from a police officer can be a very powerful deterrent to a landlord."  This will also give you a police department record if you do file a harassment case.

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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.

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