Court Upholds NYC COVID-19 Commercial Tenant Anti-Harassment Law

What Happened: New York City has a law that bans commercial landlords from engaging in “harassment” to force tenants to vacate or waive lease rights via illegal threat of force or threats based on race, creed, color, age, etc. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, the city temporarily expanded the harassment ban to cover threats related to rent against tenants impacted by COVID-19. The law also imposes a one-year ban on enforcement of personal guaranties for defaults resulting from COVID-19 closures. A group of NYC landlords claimed that the new law is unconstitutional and asked the court to overturn it.

Ruling: The New York federal court upheld the law.

Reasoning: The anti-harassment ban doesn’t violate landlords’ First Amendment rights because it doesn’t prohibit landlords from making routine rent demands; it just says they can’t make illegal threats, which don’t count as free speech. While acknowledging that the ban on enforcing personal guaranties constituted a “substantial impairment of” landlords’ contractual rights, the court still found that it’s “reasonable and necessary” to advance a public interest during COVID-19 and that the law is tailored as narrowly as possible to accomplish that interest.  

  • Melendez v. City of New York, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 222774