BUSHWICK — A coalition of elected officials, community members and housing nonprofits is planning to target tenant harassment in North Brooklyn's in the hopes of keeping locals in their rent-regulated apartments.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso is spearheading the coalition, which will focus on bringing two to three buildings with the most egregious issues to the attention of the Department of Buildings and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development next month.
Tenants and their attorneys in Williamsburg and Bushwick, both part of Reynoso's district, have been approaching HPD and the DOB with tenant-harassment cases "at an alarming rate," Reynoso said — a workload that makes it difficult for the agencies to collaborate in helping tenants, he said.
Presenting the agencies with all the information about just a few cases at a time will hopefully streamline the process and help make the agencies more effective in helping tenants stay in rent-regulated buildings, Reynoso explained.
"I feel like we're banging our heads against the wall," the councilman said of tenant-harassment issues. "This is my attempt to be creative."
Once the information about the buildings is sent to the agencies, a real-time digital document will be updated by the coalition with the status of specific repairs in an attempt to make the procedure as transparent as possible, Reynoso said.
After the problems are addressed, information about another set of two to three worst-case scenario properties will be sent to the agencies, he said.
"Let’s try to focus and get to the worst buildings," Reynoso said, "and try to make it marathon and not a sprint."
Many laws are already in place to help tenants, but the problem is enforcing them, said Marty Needelman, who's working on the coalition as part of Brooklyn Legal Services.
"It's about making the policies real and effective," he said.
The agencies will be referring the cases to the newly created Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, where different agences will enforce quality-of-life issues, preserve stabilize units and pursue criminal action, the DOB said.
“We are grateful for the Councilman’s advocacy and work on behalf of tenants," a spokesman for DOB said. "We take these complaints very seriously. Our new City-State Task Force is going to help us escalate the consequences for property owners who harass tenants.”
The coalition is also planning a campaign to educate locals on how they can receive help if their landlord is harassing them.
The first part of the campaign, called ACABO — Allied Communities Against Buyouts, or Spanish for "Stop It" — encourages tenants not to accept buyouts from their landlords.
Once a tenant accepts cash, the landlord can convert the apartment into market-rate housing, diminishing the affordable housing stock, Reynoso said.
Nonprofits like Los Sures, Make the Road New York, St. Nicks Alliance, Bushwick Housing and Legal Assistance, North West Bushwick Community group and Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens' Council have joined the coalition and will offer services to help tenants.
"They don’t have to accept harassment or neglect," Needelman said. "They can go to community organizations and legal organizations."
The coalition will kick off its first rally to educate tenants at a to-be-determined date.
"It’s all the tip of the iceberg," Needelman said. "It’s the beginning of a much larger struggle."
UPDATE: The story has been changed to reflect that the kick-off rally, originally planned for Friday, March 6, has been postponed due to weather.