In June of 2019, the New York State Legislature passed a series of rent laws that offer new protections for New York City renters. While these new rent laws offer much needed support for renters across the city, tenant harassment and bad conditions continue to affect thousands of New Yorkers every year.
“The landlord is raising rent for renovations of things that have nothing to do with our daily life. It’s endless... For us, the clogging is still there. The heat is still not enough. The ceiling is still leaking. Now he wants to raise the rent. It doesn’t raise our living standard at all.”- a NYC resident interviewed by Stabilizing NYC and The Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center
A 2017 research study found that over two-thirds of NYC residents reported mice, roaches, and bed bugs in the building, and almost a quarter reported mold. Natural disasters also exacerbate poor conditions for New Yorkers renting in the city. After Hurricane Sandy struck New York in 2012, many tenants dealt with disaster-related harassment and displacement. Housing attorneys at Legal Services NYC (LSNYC), a legal aid nonprofit based in all five boroughs that also provides free housing rights clinics, quickly saw a clear need for a central information hub that could educate and empower tenants.
LSNYC, Pro Bono Net’s LawHelpNY, and JustFix.nyc teamed up to tackle this problem. With funding support from a Legal Services Corporation Technology Innovation Grant, LSNYC, LawHelpNY, and JustFix.nyc created an easy-to-navigate housing repairs portal, designed to make taking action feel doable and straightforward. Using clear call-to-actions and a seamless digital interface, the housing portal walks users through a number of options that tenants can choose from that could help resolve poor conditions in their home. Note that taking action looks different for NYCHA and public housing tenants. Learn more about this process here.
Let’s take a closer look at the portal!
One of the first actions tenants can take is to call 311. As a city-wide service, 311 helps tenants file complaints against their landlords with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which enforces housing laws in NYC. After 311 contacts HPD about the complaint, HPD will contact the landlord and will check in with the tenant to see if the housing condition was corrected or the repair made.
Another action that the portal recommends is for tenants to begin collecting records of any heat, water, or repair issues that they are experiencing. Tenants are welcome to use LawHelpNY’s free heat and hot water tracker to record the housing issues that they experience.
Additionally, tenants can take action by writing a letter directly to their landlord. This step of the portal includes a free sample letter addressed to landlord that tenants can download, fill out, and print to send to their landlord.
If neither calling 311 or writing directly to the landlord stops the harassment, or if the landlord continues to fail to make repairs, then the tenant might choose to sue their landlord. The process of suing a landlord in housing court is called starting an HP Action. To begin this process, a tenant can complete LawHelpNY Interactive’s free online forms to file in court. Alternatively, the tenant can access JustFix.nyc to begin filling out the forms necessary in an HP Action. A 3 minute video in this section of the portal also illustrates what tenants can expect when they go to housing court.
In addition to these four actions, the housing portal also helps tenants identify which housing court they should go to file their HP Action. The location of the right housing court depends on which borough the tenant lives in.
The final section of the portal offers additional free and confidential legal help resources. Check out How to serve court papers in a lawsuit, Top three tips for going to housing court for repairs, Some words you might hear in housing court, and How to negotiate a stipulation.
Every tenant has the right to live with good conditions and free from harassment. Questions? You can use LiveHelp to chat with someone who can help you find what you need. Our staff and volunteers have been trained to help find information on LawHelpNY.org and court websites, and are available Monday to Friday 9 AM to 9 PM ET. Chat with a LiveHelp volunteer here, or read up on your rights here.
Katie Lam is Pro Bono Net’s Legal Empowerment and Technology Fellow. With support from the Open Society Foundations, Pro Bono Net has partnered with civil justice communities across the nation to advance the strategy and practice of technology-enabled legal empowerment efforts in the US. Katie leads co-design projects with these communities and coordinates Pro Bono Net's Legal Empowerment and Technology learning cohort.