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What You Can Do About Illegal Evictions

What is an illegal eviction?

The Unlawful Eviction Law1 (NYC Administrative Code Section 26-521) makes it illegal for anyone—a landlord, superintendent, marshal, or sheriff — to evict or try to evict a lawful occupant of an apartment without a court order. It is illegal for a landlord to tell you to move out by a certain day, and then come and remove your possessions if you do not leave the apartment. It is also illegal for a landlord to force you to move by changing your locks, removing your door, or cutting off your heat or hot water. Even if you owe rent, or your lease is up, you cannot be evicted until the landlord sues you, gets a court judgment against you, a warrant of eviction is issued, and the marshal comes to your door. If a landlord evicts you illegally, he or she can be arrested and charged with a Class A Misdemeanor. The City can bring a case to fine the landlord.

Who is protected by the Unlawful Eviction Law?

  • Tenants with leases
  • People who have lived lawfully in a place for thirty or more consecutive days, with or without a lease
  • Subtenants, roommates and relatives who have lived in an apartment for at least thirty consecutive days (even if they are not on the lease and have not made any direct payments to the landlord)
  • Residents of rent stabilized hotel rooms who have made a request for a lease

What types of actions would be an unlawful eviction?

  • Using or threatening to use force to get you to vacate your home
  • Cutting off essential services such as heat, electricity or water
  • Removing your possessions from your home
  • Removing the door of the residence
  • Removing locks or changing the locks without giving you a copy of the new key
  • Plugging the lock to the apartment or home, or otherwise making it inoperable
  • Doing anything that interferes with the enjoyment of your home and that is meant to make you move out.

Who can be charged with violating the law?

Any person, company, or corporation directly or indirectly in control of a dwelling. This includes:

  • Owner/landlord
  • Managing agent of building
  • Superintendent, janitor, or repairperson
  • Doorman
  • Primary tenant who has entered into an agreement with a subtenant

What should you do if you think your landlord might evict you illegally?

If you think your landlord might illegally lock you out of the apartment or otherwise try to illegally evict you, keep some documentation with you at all times that you could show to the police to prove that you live in the apartment. Any of the following documents would be helpful:

  • Lease
  • Rent receipts
  • Utility bills showing your address
  • Public assistance or government benefits records showing your address
  • Other mail addressed to you at the residence
  • Statements of friends or neighbors
  • Copies of any court papers or notes you have taken which relate to past incidents or violations by your landlord.

What should you do if you are illegally locked out of your apartment?

  • Call 911 or go directly to the local police precinct. If the officer who is assisting you is not responsive to the problem, refer the officer to the New York Police Department Patrol Guide Section 214-12. This Patrol Guide explains the Unlawful Evictions Law to police officers and tells them what to do when an illegal eviction is reported. If the officer does not know about the law or is unwilling to respond to the lock-out, ask to speak to the Desk Sergeant.
  • Take an officer back to your apartment or room. Usually, the police will not want to go unless the landlord or superintendent is at the building.
  • If you need additional assistance, contact a community organization or legal services office for assistance in bringing a legal case.

What should you do if you can’t get back into your apartment?

  • Go to Housing Court to get an Order to Show Cause to put you back into the apartment. After you get the papers signed by a Judge, deliver them to your landlord as you are told in the court papers. Go immediately to a Legal Services or Legal Aid office to see if they can help.
  • Call the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, (800) 994-6494, to try to get a placement in an emergency shelter, or stay with a friend or relative.
  • Call Victim Services at (718) 577-7777 to get information 24 hours a day.

What should you do if your utilities are illegally cut off?

  • If your gas or electricity has been cut off, check with Con Ed or Brooklyn Union Gas to find out the reason for the cut-off. If you pay for your own services and are told that your landlord requested shut-off of the services, ask to speak with the utility company branch manager. Inform the manager that you did not authorize the shut off and demand that services are restored immediately.
  • Call the Public Service Commission at (800) 342-3377 to report any unauthorized shut off of services by a utility company.
  • If your utilities are being shut off from inside the building, call the police. Also, call the Tenant Hotline at the New York State Department of Housing Preservation and Development at (212) 960-4800 and register a complaint.
  • Go to Housing Court and start an HP proceeding against your landlord or request an Order to Show Cause based on illegal eviction.

This article was posted April 01, 2007