Long Island tenants living in apartments belonging to one of the largest residential property owners on the island are getting their money back for security deposits that New York Attorney General Letitia James said were being withheld illegally.
In a statement last week, James announced that more than $422,000 was recovered for 900 tenants at Fairfield Properties apartment complex across Long Island. Full or partial security deposits had been withheld without providing a written itemized list of deductions or giving tenants the ability to make repairs before leaving to avoid penalties after inspections of apartments without the tenant being there, according to the attorney general.
“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry that their landlord will illegally withhold money that belongs to them,” said James. “Fairfield withheld thousands of dollars that belonged to hardworking people, and today, we are returning that money to tenants who were shortchanged. We will always go after landlords that violate the law and the rights of New Yorkers.”
Fairfield owns and operates 196 rental buildings from Riverhead and Hampton Bays on the East End to Queens, with a total of 13,620 rental units in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens counties.
The attorney general reached an agreement with Fairfield that it has to return the security deposit funds, including interest, as well as pay $90,000 in penalties, due to violations of several housing and tenant protection laws, the AG’s office said.
New York law requires landlords to provide an itemized list of deductions on security deposits within 14 days or it must be returned in full. Landlords also must give written notice of their right to be present during an inspection and allow tenants the opportunity to clean or fix an issue that would cause a deduction of the security deposit.
Fairfield will be contacting former tenants and send them their checks and will provide the attorney general’s office reports about returning the money, in addition to sending certificates that show future compliance every year or whenever requested by the AG over the next three years. Current staff will also go through training on correct security deposit procedures and go through annual training going forward.
“The residents of my district deserve fair, affordable, and transparent housing options, and Fairfield abused their responsibility and trust,” said Assembly Deputy Speaker Phil Ramos, who represents the 6th District of the New York Assembly, which includes portions of the Town of Islip, where there are several Fairfield properties.
“This victory against Fairfield signifies to all wishing to conduct business here that they must follow the law and treat everyone with respect and integrity,” Ramos continued. “I applaud and thank Attorney General Letitia James for her continued steadfast work to ensure all people of New York are protected and safe from abuse.”
“Today’s settlement reaffirms New York state’s commitment to tenants’ rights by holding predatory property owners accountable and requiring additional compliance reporting from this company moving forward,” said State Senator Kevin Thomas, who represents New York’s 6th Senate District in Nassau County. “I applaud Attorney General James for successfully recovering funds that were illegally withheld from Fairfield Properties renters and demonstrating that clear violations of our housing laws will not be tolerated.”
Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre of the 1th District of the New York Assembly, which includes portions of the Town of Babylon, another area with several Fairfield Properties, said it is a shame that it often requires legal action to compel landlords to pay tenants back money.
“Over the years, my office and I have been involved in several instances involving deceptive practices whereby residential property owners were indefinitely withholding security deposits from their tenants without providing proper, itemized documentation under the law,” Jean-Pierre said.
Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg said the AG’s agreement should be “a message to other landlords and property owners that they will be held accountable and that this practice will not be tolerated.”
“Enforcement by the New York Attorney General is the key to tenants’ rights actually being obeyed in the marketplace,” said Ian Wilder, the executive director of Long Island Housing Services.
“It is unfortunate that law enforcement is forced to step in to make sure that tenants are protected. As both a Fair Housing and HUD-certified Housing Counseling agency, we see that laws passed by the legislature to ensure that tenants are on equal footing with their landlords are often ignored,” Wilder said. “Tenants regularly find themselves without the resources to ensure that their rights are obeyed. We appreciate that the New York Attorney General stepped forward to protect our fellow Long Islanders.”
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