Ericka Johnson stands in the doorway of her apartment at Brighton Place Townhouses at 508 Brighton Ave. in Syracuse. Her son came home on September 21 and discovered the fallen in ceiling, Sept 30, 2022 Photo by Mike Greenlar | Central Current.

A new state law, sponsored by Syracuse legislators, will allow tenants in Upstate New York to sue property owners to correct housing codes violations.

The Tenant Dignity and Safe Housing Act, signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, will take effect in December 2023. The law establishes a new, streamlined legal proceeding that allows courts to order monetary judgments against landlords that ignore poor housing conditions. Judges can also order rent reductions in future payments based on the diminished value of the property caused by unsafe housing conditions. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rachel May and Rep. Bill Magnarelli, also calls for the Office of Court Administration to publish simple forms to make the proceeding accessible to tenants. The forms should describe the premises and the reason for filing, including proof of code violations. Once the form is filed, court clerks may send a copy of the filing to the local code enforcement department.

Through this new proceeding, courts can rule in one of three ways, by:

  • Issuing an order directing the landlord to conduct repairs in the home based on the standards of New York’s property code.
  • Awarding a monetary judgment to the tenant for the diminished value of the property based on the code violations presented. 
  • Ordering a reduction in rent based on the diminished value until the code violations have been addressed.

Court clerks can also aid tenants in filling out these forms and serving them to a landlord or property manager. A notice should be served to a landlord or property manager at least ten days before the scheduled court hearing, the bill states. The Office of Court Administration will also provide instructional materials in different languages instructing tenants on how to fill out the forms.

In the governor’s approval memo, Hochul said waiting a year to implement the law would allow for “successful implementation and training throughout the statewide court system.”

May, a Democrat from Syracuse, said in a statement the bill can help tenants feel a sense of comfort and stability in their home.

“It gives tenants a way to ensure landlords maintain their properties, keeping them in good condition and improving the quality of our Upstate housing stock,” she said.

Magnarelli, also a Democrat from Syracuse, told Central Current Tuesday he hopes it prevents tenants who are living in subpar housing conditions from getting evicted. He added that other methods of enforcement meant to address housing disrepair in rental properties, such as local code enforcement departments, can take a “great deal of time to pursue bad actors.”

“In the meantime, what happens if the tenant gets evicted by the landlord?” Magnarelli said. “They’re brought into court. Sometimes they haven’t paid rent because the premises are so bad, and the court cannot really do anything. Tenants are just told to vacate.”

Syracuse tenants’ advocates involved in drafting the legislation celebrated the signing of the bill, calling it a game changer for renters in Upstate New York.

“It gives tenants another avenue to get the best outcome possible for themselves,” said Syracuse Tenants Union Founder Palmer Harvey. “

Mary Traynor, a member of STU and a retired housing attorney, said members of the tenants union plan on spending the year talking to tenants about how the bill works.  

“We’re going to have a curriculum and materials, and go from place to place training people on how this works in court,” she said.

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Follow Eddie Velazquez @ezvelazquez.


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