Midsummer of last year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a new bill that prohibits landlords from engaging in commercial tenant harassment. The bill was codified into law – the “Non-Residential Tenant Harassment” law – and became effective as of September 26, 2016. Though the purpose of the new law was to shield small business owners from excessive landlord harassment, its protections are available to all commercial tenants, regardless of their particular industry or size.
The Non-Residential Tenant Harassment law – enshrined in the New York City Administrative Code – establishes for the first time a statutory commercial tenant harassment claim under local New York City law. Given these changes, New York City landlords must be careful not to run afoul of the new law when engaging with their commercial tenants, lest they be found liable for damages.
To better understand how the new Non-Residential Tenant Harassment law will affect landlords and tenants moving forward, let’s break down the fundamental elements of a commercial tenant harassment claim brought pursuant to the statute.
In order for the tenant to succeed in their commercial tenant harassment claim, they will have to prove that:
A landlord cannot therefore be held liable for commercial tenant harassment, even if the landlord engages in wrongful acts, unless there is evidence to prove that the landlord acted with the intent of forcing the tenant to vacate the property or surrender their rights under their lease or rental agreement. This can be difficult for a tenant to prove, particularly if the purported harassment is irregular and not systemic.
It is worth reiterating that landlords are perfectly within their legal rights to lawfully terminate the commercial tenancy, and to refuse to renew or extend the lease – naturally, these do not qualify as wrongful acts under the new Non-Residential Tenant Harassment law.
What happens if a commercial tenant successfully sues their landlord for commercial tenant harassment under the new law? Depending on the circumstances of the harassment, the Non-Residential Tenant Harassment law entitles plaintiff-tenants to a variety of remedies.
At minimum, the law imposes a mandatory civil penalty of $1k-$10k, though the courts are empowered to award significant additional damage relief (which may include attorneys’ fees and costs, among other damages). The court may also issue a restraining order preventing the landlord from engaging in further harassment of the tenant and demanding that the landlord takes steps to prevent such violation in the future.
Importantly, a tenant is not entitled to refuse to pay rent in the event of actual or imagined commercial harassment. Even if the tenant succeeds in proving their commercial harassment claim, the overall damage award will be reduced by the rental debts owed to the landlord.
If you are a New York City landlord potentially facing a commercial tenant harassment claim, you should consult as soon as possible with an attorney who has experience with New York landlord tenant law. Let the skilled attorneys at Griffin Alexander, P.C. assist you.
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