Think the battle over the rent regulation laws is over? Guess again. A coalition of tenants and Legal Aid lawyers believe the new law discriminates against poor tenants–and they are preparing to file a lawsuit to prove it.
The lawsuit, which is likely to be filed in the fall when key parts of the new rent regulations go into effect, will likely target two new provisions in the laws governing Housing Court. First is the requirement that all tenants deposit rent in escrow accounts before when non-payment cases are being heard in Housing Court. The other provision removes a renter’s right to appeal court rulings if they wait more than five days after a judge’s decision.
“There’s definitely going to be a lawsuit,” said Judith Goldiner, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society and a member of a broad coalition of lawyers and nonprofits who are opposing the new law. “We’re meeting a lot about litigation because we think [the law] is unconstitutional..” Advocates are examining both provisions closely to pinpoint any violations of due process, property rights and the separation of powers doctrine.
Although Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver plans to change some aspects of the rent laws during negotiations over the state’s long-stalled budget, his staff has not indicated it would address the two raised in the proposed lawsuit. “The five-day stuff and rent deposits are definitely not going to be part of any new deal,” a top tenant lobbyist tells City Limits.
Tenant advocates, including Legal Aid, many Legal Services offices and the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, have begun holding regular sessions to find ways of fighting the law. “I’ve never been to a meeting where there’s 150 people scared out of their minds,” is how Goldiner describes the meetings. At least one group in Goldiner’s coalition, the Harlem Tenants Council, has been holding public meetings to explain the changes in the law. Still, if the lawsuit doesn’t succeed expect sit-ins and other protests, advocates predict.