BY JAMES FARRELL
Landlords will be barred from asking immigrant tenants for proof of citizenship following the City Council’s passage of a new bill on Monday.
The bill, introduced by Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) in August, aims to protect immigrant tenants from discriminatory harassment by their landlords. Specifically, it amends the legal definition of harassment in the city’s Housing Maintenance Code to include requests for proof of citizenship when the tenant has already provided the landlord “with a current form of government-issued personal identification.”
Additionally, the bill expands the definition of harassment to include discriminatory threats against tenants based on age, race, national origin, “alienage or citizenship status” or gender, among other categories.
“The message this legislation sends to bad landlords is clear: If you harass your tenants, or make any threat based on status, you will face consequences,” Koo said. “In New York City, we support and stand by our immigrant communities, and this legislation will provide additional protections from harassment.”
Only two council members voted against the bill: Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) and Steven Matteo (R-Staten Island). Four others were absent for the vote.
The bill would allow tenants to bring such harassment claims directly against landlords through the city’s housing court, according to Koo’s office. Scott Sieber, a spokesman for Koo, said that the bill was crafted in response to rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had been knocking on doors of units in Flushing. While that was never directly confirmed, Koo’s office held several town halls, met with tenants and learned that they feared immigration status could be used as a scare tactic, Sieber said.
Last summer, a pair of tenant-harassment cases made headlines in Queens. Sieber cited a case in Corona during which landlord Jaideep Reddy faced a complaint from the state’s Division of Human Rights after allegedly demanding that tenants report to his management office with proof of citizenship or face eviction. In New York State, it’s illegal to ask tenants for immigration status as a condition of lease renewal.
And a property manager in Sunnyside named Neal Milano was charged in September with harassing a tenant and sparked controversy after adorning his building’s lobby with Nazi paraphernalia and images of Adolf Hitler and other dictators.