There are landlords who are extremely aggressive when it comes to evicting tenants, and sometimes cross the line of breaking the law. Illegal evictions are not uncommon, especially in smaller properties. By law, a landlord cannot evict a tenant without a court order. However, that doesn't stop abusive landlords from illegally changing or damaging the locks on apartments, mercilessly harassing tenants, cutting off heat, water or electrically, removing your property, or threatening violence.
These are crimes. You don't have to tolerate landlord intimidation. If you're subject to any of these behaviors in an illegal eviction situation, call the police immediately. If they don't want to get involved, cite sections 117-11 and 214-12 of the New York Police Department Patrol Guide, which require them to take action. If necessary, call the desk sergeant at their precinct to get the protection you're entitled to.
When the cops come make sure that all of the landlord's acts and specific threats are detailed in the officer's notes and the police report. Later on, you want them spelled out in court, and these records will be important supporting documents.
Landlords who threaten tenants with these kinds of illegal eviction tactics are bullies. Bullies back down when they're pushed back hard enough. You have the law on your side, and the law will step in with a great deal of power when necessary.
Even if the police say it's a civil matter and refuse to get involved, which can happen, you still have legal leverage. Picture this scenario: the landlord locks you out. You call the cops and they do nothing to help you. You get a lawyer who immediately contacts the landlord, makes it clear that legal action is being taken, and that all harassment must cease. Your attorney goes to Housing Court and gets an Order To Show Cause, which gives you prompt access to a hearing before a judge. The landlord is summoned to court.
The landlord now decides to get a lawyer. The lawyer then breaks the bad news: the landlord may end up in jail, and is likely to at least have to pay fines and penalties.
At court, the judge rules that the landlord's actions were illegal and you get back into your apartment. Sometimes this entire process can take place within 24 hours. Of course, the facts, timing and potential outcome of every case are different and need to be carefully evaluated by an experienced Tenants' attorney.
If the landlord's behavior is sufficiently egregious, you may even want to consider calling your local newspaper with the story. But discuss it with your attorney first.
As you can see from this example, with almost every day that passes, something else bad is now happening to the landlord. How do you think the individual is likely to react? Legally speaking, at some point he or she will have to back off.
As a practical matter in an illegal eviction emergency, the fastest way to regain access to your apartment is to go to court immediately yourself. You'll of course want to follow up with a Tenants' lawyer if you can afford one, but usually it takes a day or two to find and retain counsel. See strategy # 6 through # 9 in the Special Report, How to Protect Yourself Against a Ruthless, Greedy Landlord published by McAdams Law. It outlines the initial steps to take to protect yourself and get back into your home.
Stay or Go, But Don't Be Intimidated
All this being said, there are landlords who are irrational and dangerous, and may continue to harass you, even in the face of court proceedings. If the landlord lives in your building, you should consider that it's not a good idea to live with your enemies if it can be avoided. And even if that's not the situation, living in an atmosphere of continual threat is unhealthy.
The law can take steps to protect your rights, but you have to make a decision about your housing that you can live with. Leaving and finding a more peaceful place to live may be better than staying, even if you win this round in court.
Some landlords are treacherous. If you decide to stay, don't be a victim. Give the landlord something to think about before breaking the law again.
Attention New York City Tenants: See this new page that has just been added to the McAdams Law main site on Bad Conditions .