Proposed Privacy Law Protects Tenants

The New Paltz Village Board is considering a policy to protect the privacy of tenants from unauthorized intrusions from landlords. 

According to local attorney Celeste Tesoriero, she is researching and drafting legislation to penalize landlords for entering their tenants’ homes without reasonable prior notice or proper cause. While Ulster County and New York State tenant privacy laws already make these invasions illegal, there are currently no means to penalize landlords who disobey the law. 

“It is a front to the dignity of the renter that their landlord waltzes into their home without any form of recourse available,” Tesoriero said. 

According to the Rights and Obligations of Renter and Tenants of Ulster County, landlord entry is permissible, “during reasonable daytime hours, unless the tenant requests otherwise. The tenant has a reasonable expectation of privacy which the landlord needs to respect.” Landlords are allowed to violate these guidelines to remedy emergency situations, such as fires or water leaks. 

Tesoriero proposed legislation addressing specific details about how, when and why landlords are allowed entry to their tenants’ home. According to the draft, landlords would be allowed, with notice, to enter for matters such as necessary and agreed upon repairs, to exhibit the dwelling unit to purchasers and to collect their belongings. It also specifies additional provisions for legal entry without notice including: pursuing a court order, if the landlord has reasonable cause to believe the tenant has abandoned or surrendered premises and if a tenant schedules repairs, maintenance or improvements.

As the draft currently stands, landlords would have to give tenants written notice (e.g. text, email, etc.) of intended entry 48 hours before entering the home. They cannot enter on weekends, federal holidays or outside of the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. without tenant approval. 

Violation of this proposed law could incur a $100 fine for the landlord for each violation after the first notice is given to the landlord. If tenants decide to pursue the lawsuit, they shall be awarded court costs if they prevail. The burden of proof initially falls on the renter to prove the lack of notice, then falls on the landlord to justify his entry under the law. The law provides tenants with the means to file a lawsuit or call the police to report a trespassing, and incentives good behavior from landlords.

For the past five years, Tesoriero has pushed this local law after hearing numerous complaints from student tenants who feel their privacy has been violated. As a tenants’ rights attorney, she claims that illegal entry from landlords is the second biggest complaint she receives from her clients.

Third-year adolescent education major Claire Egan, unaffiliated with Tesoriero, recalls an unsettling intrusion that occured in October of 2018. According to Egan, her landlord provided a plumber with her house’s key code without first notifying her or her housemates. They were alarmed when a stranger walked in with another woman to fix their sink. When she complained to her landlord, she was met with aggravation and defensiveness against her concerns before agreeing to change her lock. 

“We are a house of 20-year-old girls and we were upset that a random man had the code to our home,” Egan said. “We don’t know who he was or if he would have stolen things if we weren’t home.”

Village Trustee Dennis Young, who also chairs the Village’s Landlord Tenant Relations Council (LTRC), is working alongside Tesoriero who he credits for spearheading the initiative. The LTRC advises, counsels, mediate sdisputes and improves relations between landlords and tenants. While the law is still in the exploratory phase, Young claims that the law was supported by a majority of the Village Board in an unofficial vote. 

“The main point of this law is to make tenants aware of their rights by putting definitions on what constitutes ‘notice’ and ‘penalties,’” Young said. 

If the law is to be implemented, it must first be unanimously approved by the board and then sent to at least one public hearing, according to New Paltz Village Deputy Mayor KT Tobin. Afterwards, the board may vote again to pass the law, or propose revisions which would require another public hearing. 

The LTRC meets monthly on the SUNY New Paltz campus to hear concerns from local tenants and discuss policy. The next meeting will take place on April 25 in the Student Union Building room 419, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.