Organizing Against Tenant Abuse

In New York City there is a huge demand for affordable housing; unfortunately the available affordable  housing stock doesn’t come close to matching the need for it. This issue is becoming greater and greater thanks to the lack of any new affordable developments and a continued decrease in the  existing citywide affordable housing stock. This decrease in the number of affordable units in New York City is a direct result of speculative practices by investors, developers and landlords. If a rent stabilized unit can be deregulated and the rent brought up to market value owners are able to turn a substantial profit.

Through a marriage of illegal tenant abuse and legalized rent decontrol speculators across the city have been rapidly depleting the already small number of available affordable units in NY. If a stabilized unit is both vacant and has had it’s rent raised legally above $2,500 a landlord can raise the rent to whatever they want. However, affordable housing is clearly valuable to those who need it so it’s rare to have tenants leave these units without good reason. Speculators know this and employ illegal tactics of abuse ranging from misinformation and lies to ignoring maintenance needs, and in many cases carry out renovations or construction on the building that puts the physical safety of tenants at risk as a from displacement pressure.
We came to the conclusion that one way to fight this sort of speculation and abuse was too breakdown the process of speculative abuse and rent decontrol for those tenants most at risk while simultaneously highlighting both success stories of battles against aggressive landlords and specific tenants rights as they relate to the timeline of harassment. Through discussions with our outside project partner, Cooper Square Committee, we decided that the project would take the form of a simple zine since it would be easy to produce, distribute and recreate. Basically we wanted to create something that was easy for Cooper Square to make without a lot of effort and resources and also have it be something that is easy to pass along to a neighbor once it had been read over. Brandon Kielbasas at Cooper Square was particularly interested in highlighting this marriage of legal and illegal practices as an overarching mechanism of speculative real estate as it has become the biggest issue for the rent stabilized tenants he represents.
The main challenges we faced were collecting and synthesizing all the necessary information and then distilling the legal jargon and the process of abuse and deregulation down into the simplest terms possible. The available information on tenants rights and speculation is both dense, difficult to find, and spread across many sources. We wanted to create a guide of sorts that used plain language to contextualize aggressive and abusive landlords, make tenant’s legal rights as understandable as possible and highlight stories of successful tenant battles against speculators. In this way the zine could be used as a resource and tool for rent stabilized tenants, both in knowing their rights and in how to fight back against harassment and abuse.
Moving forward the first additions that could be made to this project at a later date are translations. Spanish is probably the most needed in this case with Chinese being the next in line. There is also room to expand and add more success stories, we these as an important component as they illustrate that tenants can win against wealthy and aggressive speculators. The index of resources can be continuously updated, particularly with borough or neighborhood specific contacts for organizers or advocacy groups.
Noah Emrich
Gabriel Berrios


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