NYPD

Class-Action Lawsuit Targets New York's Abusive NYPD-Controlled Eviction Program

People's homes and businesses threatened unless they sign away rights.

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Sung Cho
Institute for Justice

A potentially massive new class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice seeks to stop the terrible practice by New York City that attempts to intimidate small business operators and renters into signing away their constitutional rights in order to avoid getting evicted as a method of "nuisance abatement."

This practice, authorized by a law passed in the 1970s intended to clean up Times Square, has been exposed as a source of abusive police and city behavior against citizens. All police have to do is find evidence that a crime might have taken place on a property in order to threaten people with eviction. The way the law is worded doesn't require a conviction or even charges for the city to move forward. It's not unlike the abuse-prone civil asset forfeiture programs where police attempt to seize cash and property from people for mere suspicion of criminal activity.

A media investigation back in February exposed how this alleged "nuisance abatement" program has resulted in hundreds of people being ejected from their homes by the New York Police Department, but there frequently were no convictions for any crimes, and in some cases, not even charges.

This week the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a class-action suit to try to stop some of the coercion embedded in this program and its lack of due process. The police and New York City often use the threat of eviction to try to intimidate people into signing away their property rights, their due process, and even the right to decide who may live with them.

IJ is representing three plaintiffs at the start. Sung Cho owns a laundromat targeted by police, and David Diaz and Jameelah El-Shabazz are renters. IJ's announcement of the lawsuit focuses on Sung's experience:

On a cold December morning three years ago, Sung Cho showed up to open his laundromat business in Manhattan and found a bright orange eviction notice attached to the window. The notice said he had just a few days to prepare for a hearing—scheduled for Christmas Eve—where he would have to convince a judge that his business should not be closed. Sung soon learned that he was threatened with eviction because undercover New York police officers came to the laundromat and offered to sell stolen electronics. Two people took the bait, though neither had any connection to Sung's business.

Sung was the target of the NYPD's no-fault eviction program, which punishes businesses and residents when somebody else—even a total stranger—commits a crime on or near their property. The program allows the NYPD to evict tenants, no conviction required.

Neither Sung, nor his business or employees were implicated in the sting. But that didn't matter, as innocence was not a defense under the city's ordinance. Sung could be evicted simply because his business was the site of a crime.

But there was a way for Sung to save his business, the city told him:

The city would drop the eviction action if Sung agreed to three demands: waive his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches, grant police unlimited access to his security camera system, and allow NYPD to impose future fines and sanctions for alleged criminal offenses at the business without any opportunity for a hearing before a judge. Faced with no other option, Sung signed the agreement.

IJ's lawsuit is aiming to block this sort of intimidation and to force New York City to stop threatening citizens with eviction unless they sign away their constitutional rights.

Reason spoke with Robert Everett Johnson, an IJ attorney handling the lawsuit. They're not sure how many New Yorkers might be able to join the suit, but the report from February found nearly 150 cases where residents either gave up leases or were banned from homes without having been convicted of a crime. That was over a period of just 18 months. Given how old the law is, Johnson figures there are "hundreds or even thousands of cases" where New Yorkers were intimidated into giving up their property rights.

The two other cases IJ is representing show how the system harms renters. David Diaz's home was raided by police, who arrested many of his family there for a memorial for his mother. Police found a small amount of crack cocaine in the raid. While they couldn't prove the cocaine belonged to any particular person, they threatened Diaz with eviction unless he agreed to prohibit a number of his family members from setting foot in the home, Johnson said. This included his brothers, who assist him by babysitting his daughter (Diaz is a single father). One of the brothers, Johnson said, is currently homeless. Diaz would allow his brother shelter at his home, but he can't because of this settlement with New York.

The case of Jameelah El-Shabazz is even more absurd. Police raided multiple apartments in her building due one resident apparently dealing drugs, Johnson said. In her apartment, police found paper cups containing crushed eggshells. El-Shabazz is a practitioner of the religion Ifá and the eggshells were part of a religious ceremony. The police assumed the eggshells must be drugs and arrested her and her son and took them to Riker's Island. Drug testing subsequently proved El-Shabazz's innocence and she even got a $37,500 settlement from the city over her arrest.

Neverthless, she has been targeted under the city's eviction code because of this "drug arrest," a month after the city settled it, unless she agreed to barring her son from her home. IJ believes the city is "robo-filing" these orders without examining them.

Why would residents agree to signing their rights away so easily? Johnson explains that the police get these eviction orders and present them to targets before they have any opportunity to get a hearing. Then the city or police make demands.

"If you say no, the risk that you run is that you will immediately be made homeless," Johnson said. That makes it very hard for poorer renters or small business owners to resist.

"Nobody should be forced to waive constitutional rights by threat of eviction," Johnson said. "The remedy we're seeking is for the court to declare that these past agreements are invalid and can't be enforced."

Read more about the case here.

NEXT: Justice Department Says It Will Finally Collect Police Use of Force Data

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  2. …he would have to convince a judge that his business should not be closed.

    Oh, that’s right. Judge’s are just attorneys who wear black dresses to work. That’s why this kind of abuse doesn’t get stopped in court. I forgot.

    1. Yup. It’s Kafka all the way down . . .

      1. But why did I make judges possessive instead of plural? Answer me that, smart guy.

        1. Because you were in a rush to get first comment, and you failed.

  3. “If you say no, the risk that you run is that you will immediately be made homeless,” Johnson said. That makes it very hard for poorer renters or small business owners to resist.

    Should I even ask how strong are renter protections vs private landlords in NYC (not including rent-controlled apartments, of course), compared to FYTW on display here?

    I swear, government being completely unbound by the rules it enforces on everyone else is #1 tool in anarchists’ recruitment kit.

    1. My question is does this apply to actual land owners like brownstone owners.

      If so…HOW? (beyond FYTW)

  4. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
    There’s nothing you can’t do
    Now you’re in New York

    1. An excellent illustration of the difference between “propaganda” and “reality”.

  5. How do all of these people living in cities controlled by Democrats for decades still think that more government is a good thing?!

    1. Well, who’s going to protect them from the Thugs?

      1. Which thugs – those in government?

  6. So, why has it taken this long for someone to sure the city over this?
    Also, WTF? Sounds like New York city is a real police state.

  7. Reason number 524,974 why I’m an anarchist.

    1. And live far away from NYC.

  8. Why do you people hate orderly, livable cities?

    1. I’ll let you know, if I ever find one.

  9. That makes it very hard for poorer renters or small business owners to resist.

    RESISTANCE IS FATAL

  10. I might fall victim to this while I’m living in NYC. I fear they are going to hold how criminally handsome I am against me.

    1. Not at all likely; diminished capacity is obvious.

  11. Why are liberal Democrat cities so dangerous and oppressive to minorities and in fact all citizens?


    Staten Island cops allegedly get points for each arrest

    Quote:
    Staten Island cops are being forced to participate in a new NYPD quota game in which they get points for each arrest they make, it was revealed Tuesday.

    A dry-erase board posted inside the Anti-Crime Unit office in the 122nd Precinct stationhouse in New Dorp shows that anti-crime cops are given one point for every misdemeanor arrest they make and 1.5 points for every felony arrest.

    Cops in the command are required to get three points a month, according to Anthony Miranda, chairman of the National Latino Officers Association, which obtained a photo of the dry-erase board. If they don’t, then they are given a negative number, which accrues from month to month.

    The more negative numbers an anti-crime cop has, the more likely he will get booted from the command, Miranda explained.

    “They are assigning points as if they’re playing a game,” Miranda said Tuesday outside NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan. “They force officers to compete with each other to mandate arrests in our communities.”

  12. Government is what we all do together. Like fuck with poor people, for instance.

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  15. Note that the eviction process also shafts the property owners, since they either have to find new tenants (which for a business may require remodeling) or their property is made subject to warrantless searches, etc.

  16. “The remedy we’re seeking is for the court to declare that these past agreements are invalid and can’t be enforced.”
    The remedy is to have the entire NYPD pension fund forfeit to the abused, and any future pensions subject to confiscation at the whim of the fourth person to enter central park on a Thursday. Let then try a little randomness for a change.

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  18. IJ knows how to pick their fights; this one looks like a BP fast-ball right over the plate.

  19. Drug testing subsequently proved El-Shabazz’s innocence and she even got a $37,500 settlement from the city over her arrest.

    Sounds to me like the crime of false arrest was committed at the police station, so that means the cops have ten minutes to pack their shit and get out.

    Right?

  20. Vote with your feet. If you stay and find some arrangement or compromise with police, you become part of the problem.

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  24. So, a bunch of piss ant city council members, who took oaths to defend and uphold the constitution of the United States, instead decided to contravene the highest law of the land. They engaged in an act that the supreme law of our country specifically forbids them to take and in doing so destroyed the lives and livelihood of how many people?

    Can someone explain to me why these people should not be lined up in front of a wall?


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