Amid rising claims of immigrants being harassed by their landlords, city officials gathered Wednesday to condemn such discrimination and affirm the rights of immigrant tenants across the city.
Landlords who harass on the basis of immigration background face a penalty of up to $250,000 under the Human Rights Law.
There are 291 open investigations into discrimination based on immigration status, according to Hollis Pfitsch, deputy commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau in the Commission on Human Rights. She added that the number of investigations has doubled in the past three years.
On Wednesday, standing in Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, the de Blasio administration held a Day of Action for tenant rights, encouraging residents to alert the city if they feel they are being discriminated against.
Just days before, the Daily News reported that a Queens landlord had demanded immigration papers from all residents, threatening eviction if they couldn’t cough them up.
Ivan Contreras, a Woodside on the Move organizer, said he was appalled by the news. The tenants of the building approached the group when they received the threatening letter.
“We told the tenants not to worry about it, but to be conscious of what is happening right now in the city,” Contreras said. “It’s really scary for me to think that this is a trend that is happening right now, not just in this building, but across the borough of Queens.”
Nearly half of Queens’ residents are foreign-born — the highest rate in the city.
“Far too often, we hear stories like we heard in the media this week,” said Daniel Dromm, city councilman for the district representing Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. “But to be honest with you, this was one of the most egregious, because the landlord actually put into writing the discriminatory letter.”
Bitta Mostofi, assistant commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, believes the rise in harassment cases coincides with insensitive rhetoric flowing from the White House, as well as a crackdown on those living in the country illegally.
“The hateful, derogatory rhetoric that we’re hearing in Washington does not rule the day in New York City,” Mostofi said.
The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents the interests of landlords in New York, did not respond to requests for comment.