Since its founding 43 years ago, Asian Americans for Equality has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with New York City tenants facing harassment and intimidation from unscrupulous landlords. There have been successes as well as setbacks along the way in the battle for safe, affordable and sustainable housing. This year, thanks to the hard work of a citywide coalition, we have been able to celebrate some important victories.
Today we are kicking off a series of reports leading up to AAFE’s 10th Annual Community Development Conference. In the days that remain before the big event on Oct. 25, we will be setting the stage for some of the major themes to be discussed when the conference convenes at New York University’s Kimmel Center. First up, a look at this year’s accomplishments in the ongoing campaign for stronger tenant rights.
AAFE is part of a New York City-based coalition, Stand for Tenant Safety, which fought for the passage of 12 bills in the City Council to protect tenants from landlords using construction as a form of harassment. All of them were approved this year and have now become law. The legislation gives tenants, city agencies and advocacy organizations new tools to battle property owners who endanger the safety and well-being of residents during building renovations. Among other enhancements, the laws make it easier for tenants to prove harassment in court, increase penalties for tenant harassment and establish a “Safe Construction Bill of Rights.”
Meanwhile, the city/state Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force has begun making headway in cracking down on bad landlords. Several successful prosecutions by the State Attorney General came about as a result of complaints filed with the task force. Just this month, notorious landlord Steve Croman began serving a one-year prison term at Rikers Island after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged him with multiple counts of tax and mortgage fraud. In April, another landlord, Dean Galasso, was indicted on mortgage fraud charges. AAFE first alerted the task force to Galasso’s egregious harassment of tenants in a building he owns at 43 Essex St. in Manhattan.
Like many of its community partners, AAFE helps rent stabilized tenants protect their homes. Through one-on-one counseling, legal support and workshops, residents learn how to establish tenant associations in their buildings and how to use city and state laws to fight landlord harassment. Some of the proposals recently implemented by the City Council were part of AAFE’s 2011 study, Demolition Through Intentional Neglect: A Tactic of Predatory Landlords to Demolish Rent Regulated Housing.
At this year’s conference, participants will discuss how our communities can create quality affordable housing for all in an overheated real estate market. Throughout it’s history, AAFE has been committed — not only to creating new affordable housing options — but also to preserving our dwindling stock of rent stabilized housing. That’s what the battle against tenant harassment is about at its core.
This year’s successes have demonstrated once again that our common goals can best be accomplished when we work together in coalitions. We look forward to a robust conversation about our collective priorities heading into 2018.
AAFE’s 2017 Community Development Conference takes place Oct. 25 at NYU’s Kimmel Center.