In gentrifying neighborhoods, the pressures of eviction are all too real, supported by stories about New York City landlords who push out rent-stabilized tenants by creating truly horrifying living conditions, such as lack of heat and hot water, mold, and vermin.
But tenant intimidation can come in quieter—albeit equally illegal—forms. Case in point: At 415 East 16th Street, a 54-unit rent-stabilized apartment building in Ditmas Park, the building's landlord recently installed a large sign in the lobby with a list of 10 etiquette rules evocative of the Ten Commandments, where sins are punishable by eviction.
While “house rules” may be common in many buildings, this list takes things a step further, starting with the first rule: “Speak softly and keep off your mobile devices.”
Also forbidden are pets, which one building resident, who asked not to be identified by name, said was news to her as well as the building’s pet-owning tenants. Sitting on or blocking stairs is also verboten. “Hallways, walkways and stairways are no place to loiter, wait or congregate,” the sign states.
Not only visitors, but also the youngest of residents are instructed to comply. Rule number 7: “Enforce these guidelines unto your children. All children are expected to uphold these same principles. You must show them the way.”
Spelled out at the bottom of the list is a "three-strikes you’re out" policy. Three-time offenders, it states, will draw a $100 fine and an “initiation of eviction proceeding.”
“Landlords are constantly coming up with new ways to harass tenants, especially long-term tenants,” said Aga Trojniak, the director of the Flatbush Tenants Coalition. However, she told Gothamist that the sign at the Ditmas Park building was “particularly offensive.” She said a building resident had reported the sign to her organization.
In addition to creating an atmosphere of fear, she said such rules can be used during holdover eviction cases, in which landlords try to force out tenants for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, such as behavior.
Gothamist also showed a photo of the sign to the Legal Aid Society. Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the society's Civil Law Reform Unit, issued a statement in response: “Unscrupulous landlords employ a range of arbitrary and punitive rules to nickel-and-dime low-income residents. It’s blatant harassment, and tenants should contact us if they believe that their rights are being infringed upon.”
The building is owned by 415 Realty LLC, according to city property records. The address for the LLC is listed as 415 East 16th Street and corresponds to that of the Empress Property Group. In 2015, Empress Property purchased a seven-building apartment complex in East Flatbush known as Clarendon Gardens for $34.7 million, according to The Real Deal; records on Property Shark show that 415 Realty principal Lav Bauta owns or manages several other buildings in central Brooklyn as well.
A representative at Empress Property Group did not respond to a request for comment.
Trojniak said portions of the rules are illegal. Terms of tenancy for rent-stabilized tenants would be outlined in the initial lease, she said, including what kind of fees tenants can be charged. “The idea that you can just come up with fines is just a brazen attempt to harass people,” she said.
With regards to the landlord’s rule against loitering or congregating, she said that under state law residents have the right to form a tenant organization and any public area in the building can be used for the purposes of organizing.
This is not the first time the building's landlord has received attention for questionable tenant requirements. In 2016, a tenant reported to Bklyner that a notice had appeared in the building detailing a new key system. Tenants were given four days, all of them weekdays and during working hours, to claim their new keys at the property management's office. Those who failed to get their keys in time would face a possible lockout.
The building at 415 East 16th Street is largely home to Hispanic families, many of whom, according to the 2016 Bklyner story, have lived in the building for decades. The 2016 story noted that there was no Spanish translation provided about the notice on new keys; the sign that appeared last week is likewise only in English.
The resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said she saw no justification for imposing such a crackdown on tenant behavior.
“Everyone is very respectful in this building, everyone keeps to themselves,” the tipster said, adding, “You see life happening. It’s just really upsetting that they are doing this.”
UPDATE: On Tuesday night, a resident at the building emailed us to say that the sign had been taken down.