We're all familiar with the infamous real estate conferences where bigwigs talk about how excited they are to colonize emerging new neighborhoods and "de-tenant" rent-stabilized buildings. But this weekend, a conference will teach tenants how they can fight back against landlords eager to get them out of their rent-stabilized homes, with the lessons coming from a group that's tangled with notorious East Village landlord Raphael Toledano.
The Tenants Coalition (an offshoot of the Toledano Tenants Coalition) is holding their Tenant Empowerment Conference this Saturday (September 23rd) at 10 a.m. at Middle Collegiate Church, with backup from Stabilizing NYC and the Cooper Square Committee.
If you can't make it to the conference though, the TTC's Nina d'Alessandro has a couple important lessons to share that she's leaned in the two years of struggle with Toledano. According to d'Alessandro, the first thing rent-stabilized tenants need to know is that they have plenty of rights they can asset when a landlord begins harassing them. While it sounds simple, it's the basis of holding on to your apartment when your landlord starts trying to bounce you.
"More than ever in the last five years or so, it's become clearer that renting tenants in stabilized apartments have more backing from the city and state than they've had in the past," d'Alessandro told us. In addition to the new package of tenant protection laws that the City Council passed this summer, you also have a basic right to a clean and safe environment, and d'Alessandro said she's found government agencies and elected officials will show up to enforce those rights.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease as long as the squeaky wheel makes sure to appear as well-informed and reasonable," d'Alessandro says. "A lot of these landlords' behavior isn't so reasonable, so if you show that you know your rights and present yourself in a reasonable and assertive manner, yes, you'll get lots of attention."
Of course, just because you have rights doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Forming a tenants association is "invaluable," d'Alessandro told us. In addition to deepening neighborhood bonds with your fellow harassed tenants, "you get energy and information from your neighbors, who pool their experiences. When you stand up for yourself against landlord harassment or poor living conditions, and then other people stand up making the same complaint, you feel and you are much stronger. Your neighbors are a tremendous resource, from their talents to their contacts to what they can contribute."
Starting a tenants' organization is as simple as watching what goes on around your building, and talking to your neighbors about it.
"Before calling our first meeting, I spent weeks talking to neighbors in my building, in stores, and on the streets around the neighborhood, just getting a solid feel and information, trading stories about the sudden appearance of buyers for our buildings, the bullying behaviors and phone calls from new management, the problems and fears about what would happen to their buildings and their storefronts," d'Alessandro said.
And while the fight will remain difficult, as has been proven by any story of tenant harassment, at least with a tenants coalition keeps you from feeling isolated in what can be an exhausting fight. "People are social beings, and we learn and we grow when we pool ideas as compared to when we're all alone."