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Immigrant Tenant Harassment on the Rise

HOST INTRO: Immigrants are experiencing more harassment from their landlords, say tenants’ rights organizers. And, in an atmosphere of fear, many immigrants are choosing not to make complaints or fight for their rights. Taylor Wizner went to one building in Brooklyn, where documented and undocumented immigrants have been battling eviction and harassment from the landlord.

This brick apartment building in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn is right across from a park. It looks like an ideal place to raise a family. But for the immigrants living inside, the conditions are dangerous and some of the residents are too afraid to complain. Tenant organizer Marcos Paucar (PA-ou-car) gives a tour of one the apartments.

Paucar 1 As you can see there is a hole there. The closet is sinking. Right now she doesn’t have water inside the bathroom. The bathroom sink doesn’t work. No electricity so she uses the outlet to power the whole apartment.

The woman living in this one-bedroom apartment doesn’t want to share her name because she is undocumented and fears retaliation from her landlord. She has been working with Paucar and lawyers, and they’ve chosen not to report the conditions because the apartment configuration may not be legal.

Her daughter also lives in the building. She’s recently given birth. And she says within a week she was threatened with eviction by her landlord.

Anon woman 1 She left a voice message threatening my husband and myself saying that she was going to send immigration and send police officers to where I live so that we could get out. And out stuff would be out by marshall. And my husband called back and said he can’t do that because we need time.

She says the landlord is afraid housing officials will find out a newborn is living in an illegal apartment and will shut down the building. But she also suspects the landlord wants more rent for the apartment which she is unwilling to pay.

Anon woman 2 Well I heard rumors with the super that she’s going to throw us out because she’s going to rent it. She’s going to rent the whole apartment again. The whole basement. Because we almost have two rooms literally. And then she wanted us to pay 800 dollars. Ok but then I was like how am I going to pay that, of I don’t have a stove, I don’t have a bathroom.

This is a situation many are facing in the building, and many in the city. Alex Trimel is a lawyer with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. She says eviction threats like this has intensified under the new administration, as President Trump has talked about pursuing an immigration crackdown.

Trimel 1 Landlords are getting more explicit with their threats. They’re bolder. Unfortunately a lot of our clients who are comparatively marginalized and low income have suffered because of that.

Housing advocates in other parts of the City have noted increased harassment. Wasim Lone is the director of Housing Services at GOLES—which stands for, Good Old Lower East Side. Lone says immigrants, with legal status and those without, are worried about standing up to harassment if it means immigration officials or police will become involved. He says immigrants are even refusing to open their doors to tenant rights groups.

Lone 1 I’ve talked to immigrant tenants who are afraid to put their name down on a petition. They’re afraid to be part of a tenant association, they’re afraid to be part of a lawsuit in housing court to defend their rights.

Some public officials are joining in to make sure landlords are held accountable for illegal behavior. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced last week his plans to introduce a bill that would make it easier to criminally prosecute landlords who target rent-stabilized tenants. He’s also starting a tenant harassment hotline, with the hope that tenants will find it easier to record their complaints. At the building in Cypress Hills, one of these initiatives might be the thing that makes that helps.

Taylor Wizner, Columbia Radio News.


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