Yesterday, when we saw in the Daily News that the Tenant Protection Unit had successfully won a settlement with Castellan Real Estate Partners after a seven month investigation, we got pretty excited.
The probe, which included first-ever subpoenas by the housing division of a landlord’s entire financial records, was sparked after a Daily News report in May that Castellan’s management company was demanding to see the passports or proof of citizenship as well as pay stubs of all tenants — even those who had valid leases.
The firm threatened to evict within 30 days anyone who didn’t comply, and it pressured dozens of tenants, most of them immigrants from Mexico and Ecuador, to sign vacate agreements.
State law does not permit a landlord to demand proof of citizenship or income from a tenant who already has a valid lease.
As we wrote about on the blog a few months ago, the TPU was created in 2012 to: protect the rights of rent regulated tenants and provide information to both tenants and owners; increase compliance with and enforce rent regulation laws; and detect landlords’ fraudulent acts and non-compliance with housing laws.
This is a massive victory for housing rights organizers and advocates around the state. When the TPU was first getting started, many doubted that it would have an impact. Then, in October, the TPU made headlines for serving a subpoena to a delinquent landlord in Flatbush/Crown Heights neighborhoods.
But this time is different. Not only did the TPU serve the subpoena, but it won! It proved that it is not just an agency that will investigate, but an agency that will create change.
“Tenants didn’t have to wait for court proceedings, lengthy depositions or any of the other legal mechanisms that could have tied them up for years,” said division Deputy Commissioner Richard White. “This sends a clear message (to landlords) . . . that we are watching.”
Not surprisingly, the tenants got the attention of TPU by organizing. The Movement for Justice in El Barrio worked with tenants to protest Castellan and get the TPU to take the case on. We’re looking forward to working with TPU on upcoming campaigns!