A NY Law Puts A Steep Price On ‘Serious’ Building Disrepair. These Tenants Are Fighting To Use It.

City Limits, Emma Whitford, December 18, 2023

Brooklyn tenants are trying to dismantle barriers around a seldom-used 1960s-era law that can prohibit landlords from collecting rent when they fail to fix dangerous building conditions for months on end. The campaign just had its first breakthrough. 

Beverly Rivers has lived at 125 Lenox Road in Flatbush for over 30 years. At 67 years old, she’s raised two daughters in her apartment.

So she was relieved this month when a housing court judge dismissed her eviction case, ruling that her landlord, One Lenox LCC, couldn’t collect back rent. Not just the nine months she was sued for, but more than a year’s worth—a time when dangerous conditions plagued Rivers’ building. “It felt good because I was going crazy,” she said.

Rivers benefited from a little-known section of the state’s Multiple Dwelling Law, 302-a, which can prevent a property owner from seeking rent once they fail to fix a dangerous situation, deemed “rent-impairing,” for at least six months. It could be a fire hazard, or one of dozens of other conditions deemed a “serious threat” to life, health or safety.

It is otherwise rare for tenants to have months of rent obligation wiped out as a result of building disrepair, not simply reduced. According to landlord attorney Lisa Faham-Selzer of Kucker Marino Winiarsky & Bittens LLP, property owners take notice.

“Landlords don’t want to have these violations,” she said. “And it scares them into keeping the apartments up to code.”

In Rivers’ case, city inspectors identified a defective fire escape as well as illegal door and gate fastenings endangering the whole building—court records show these violations were fixed in January—plus a rodent infestation in her apartment.

One day last October, Rivers went to use the bathroom and encountered a rat. She managed to capture a video. “I see these two eyes glaring at me. Oh lord, I froze,” she recalled. “Needless to say, I was so petrified I couldn’t do anything I went in there to do.”

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