Attorney General James Issues Guidance to Law Enforcement on Protecting Tenants’ Right to Organize

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James announced today that she has issued guidance to New York state law enforcement agencies to remind them about tenants’ rights to organize. Under New York Real Property Law § 230, tenants have the right to form tenant associations and hold tenant meetings on or in the property where they live.   

In a memo sent to law enforcement agencies across the state, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) provided guidance about responding to landlords, superintendents, or other individuals that make complaints about tenants or their invited guests organizing or meeting within a building or its common grounds. Attorney General James warns law enforcement to be cautious to avoid unintentionally being used by landlords to violate the rights of tenants to organize and meet.

“As New Yorkers grapple with unprecedented rent increases and an increasingly difficult rental market, we are seeing some landlords use concerning tactics,” said Attorney General James. “We have seen reports of landlords calling the police on tenants for gathering and organizing in their own buildings — actions that are well within the parameters of the law. Every tenant should feel comfortable exercising their right to organize without fear of legal retaliation. Landlords cannot use our law enforcement officers as tools to bully and threaten tenants, and my office will work to ensure that local sheriffs and law enforcement departments understand the rights of tenants across the state.”

In her memo, Attorney General James maintains that if law enforcement is called to disperse a tenant meeting or to remove people that are organizing, the responding officers must have a good understanding of Real Property Law § 230 and the protections it provides to tenants and their representatives. 

Attorney General James provided the following reminders regarding tenant organizing:

  • Landlords are prohibited from interfering with the right of a tenant to form, join, or participate in the lawful activities of any organization formed to protect the rights of tenants.
  • Landlords must not harass, punish, or penalize any tenant for exercising the right to organize.
  • Law enforcement, when encountering a meeting of tenants and organizers in a building, may not disperse the meeting unless it violates narrow prohibitions outlined in the law, such as when the activities are not peaceful.
  • Tenants are permitted to reach out to other tenants and widely distribute information concerning organizing activities.
  • Non-tenants, such as organizers and attorneys, are allowed to conduct tenant organizing activities on private property at the request of a tenant residing at that property.
    • Such tenant organizers are also permitted to ask tenants for contact information to address issues in the building which may relate to such issues as repairs or the landlord’s rent setting policies.
  • Tenant meetings in common areas of a building or property are permitted by law. Items necessary for the meeting such as a table and chairs may be placed in common areas for the meeting.
  • Law enforcement should not make determinations concerning whether a meeting is a fire hazard or other determinations outside their expertise.
  • Landlords who use force or otherwise attempt to disperse lawful tenant meetings may violate penal laws such as Disorderly Conduct, Menacing, Aggravated Harassment, or Assault. Law enforcement should use their discretion in enforcing these, and other appropriate penal laws to preserve the peace when tenants are exercising their rights under the Real Property Law.

The OAG is available to assist local law enforcement departments in developing guidance for their officers when responding to tenant meetings and organizing activities.