Certain violations are so dangerous that if the landlord doesn’t fix them within 6 months, tenants are legally not obligated to pay rent. This legal strategy is powerful but rarely used, because it requires tenants deposit the full amount of unpaid rent with the court for months at a time – something working class tenants often can’t do.
How can tenants use UHAB’s Defense Fund to fight for repairs?
Right now there are over 130,000 open rent impairing violations citywide. Rent impairing violations are those which HPD categorizes as ‘immediately hazardous to health and safety.’ These include lapses in fire safety, active leaks, and other serious violations. If a landlord does not correct a rent impairing violation within six months, a tenant is not required to pay rent until the violation is corrected. However, in order to use this right, a tenant must be taken to housing court by their landlord; use HPD records to prove the rent impairing violation exists, and deposit the money sought by the landlord with the court while the case is decided. The rent impairing violation defense is a powerful tool for tenants to win life saving repairs, but it’s rarely used: most families living in buildings with the worst conditions are also low-income, and do not have the thousands of dollars needed to deposit with the court for months while the case is decided.
1616 President St. Tenant Association has been on rent strike for over two years.
When the pandemic began, and neighbors lost their jobs, the families of 1616 President St joined together to initiate a rent strike in May of 2020. The strike had three goals: protect those in the building who could no longer afford the rent, ensure quality repairs to address decades of recurring leaks and hazardous mold throughout the building, and win full rent cancellation statewide in response to the government shutdown of the economy. This tenant association is a member of HOPE (Housing Organizers for People Empowerment), a member-led group of tenants fighting for housing justice in Eastern Brooklyn.
Tenants have used the rent strike to leverage several important victories. Over two years of striking, the families of 1616 President St forced their previous landlord (NYC’s worst, Jason Korn) to sell the building, and forced HPD to bring a lawsuit for repairs against Korn and the new owner. Their work encouraged other tenant associations that work with HOPE to begin their own rent strikes for quality repairs at 575 Herkimer St, 1402-1408 Sterling Place, and 1392 Sterling Place. In August, the Tenant Association forced the new landlord, Gilman Management into direct negotiations on a comprehensive repair plan: joint inspections are ongoing and repairs are scheduled to begin next month.
All members of the Tenant Association are still in court, and the landlord is seeking to evict all of the families involved in the rent strike. A building wide rent impairing violation affected the entire building from July 2019-May 2022, so according to the law, tenants are not required to pay rent from January 2020-May 2022. However, with the forced shutdown of the economy due to the pandemic, few tenants are able to deposit enough money with the court to raise the rent impairing violation defense. HOPE and UHAB came together with Flatbush Tenant Coalition, a member-led group of tenant associations and tenant leaders in Flatbush, East Flatbush, and South Crown Heights working collectively to build tenant power. Together, organizers worked to establish a fund to enable tenants to meet the criteria needed to raise the rent impairing violations defense in housing court.
UHAB is proud to launch a Defense Fund: a revolving fund that will enable the communities we are organizing in to utilize the rent impairing violations defense and win meaningful repairs.
The revolving Defense Fund will continue to help more families fight slumlords.
The Tenant Association at 1616 President St has committed to using this money as a revolving community fund for other families to apply to once they win the struggle at 1616. The recycled money and successful precedent set by the association has the potential to establish a growing fund to empower the hundreds of thousands of people living in immediately hazardous conditions. In HOPE’s outreach and organizing work, as well as our meetings in coalition with multiple tenant organizations across the city, we know that the eviction crisis is already taking hold on the most vulnerable New Yorkers. This fund will provide another layer of support for tenants who are standing up to their negligent landlords who abuse their positions of power and threaten the lives of their tenants.
19 people lost their lives at 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx this winter over lack of heat and fire safety violations. Children and adults at 1616 President St continue to develop asthma in the middle of an airborne pandemic due to the mold conditions in their homes. Creating a Defense Fund to allow our community to fight rent impairing violations will give families another tool to keep one another safe and stop tragedies caused by landlord greed and apathetic administrations.
Thank you to the Robin Hood Foundation for making the Community Defense Fund possible. If you’re interested in supporting this work, please reach out to Rania Dalloul at email@example.com.