Three-Quarter Houses are buildings that rent shared rooms to homeless people for profit and falsely claim to provide supportive and other services. These unlicensed facilities have proliferated in New York City and are located throughout the five boroughs, with large concentrations in central Brooklyn and the Bronx. Originally fed by a flood of referrals from the city shelter system, operators now also recruit tenants leaving hospital mental health and substance abuse units, or reentering the community after serving time in jails or prisons, by promising support services and assistance with finding permanent housing.
Instead of services, however, tenants are packed into overcrowded sleeping rooms in houses that often have serious building violations and hazardous conditions. Operators often require residents to attend off-site substance abuse programs regardless of their individual treatment needs, and most are forced to vacate the premises during the day, even if they have nowhere else to go. Tenants who complain about conditions, refuse to “comply” with forced treatment, or who have completed an outpatient program but have received no help to find permanent housing, are often unlawfully evicted. Most tenants receive public assistance and their rent is paid directly to operators by the city’s Human Resources Administration. Because so many people are crowded into each house, operators are able to profiteer from running an illegal boarding house, bringing in multiple rental payments for small units.
MFY’s Three-Quarter House Project, begun in September 2009, provides advice, counsel and representation to residents on housing and related legal matters and conducts workshops for residents on their rights.
In collaboration with Neighbors Together, a community-based organization in Brownsville, MFY organized the Three-Quarter House Tenant Organizing Project (TOP), a group of current and former residents fighting for fair and just treatment of tenants and a safer system of affordable housing. Link to TOP on Facebook and Twitter.
TOP’s latest campaign, the No More Illegal Lockouts Campaign, pressed the NYPD to step up its enforcement of New York City’s Unlawful Eviction Law. Under the Unlawful Eviction Law, it is a criminal offense to evict occupants of dwellings who have been in occupancy for 30 days or more without court process. In 2014, TOP members collected over 1000 signatures calling on the New York City Police Department to protect tenants from illegal evictions. TOP’s efforts resulted in a city-wide order directing all NYPD officers to help illegally-evicted three-quarter house tenants get back into their homes.
MFY has obtained a number of court decisions in favor of tenants who were illegally evicted from their three-quarter houses. While three-quarter house operators often argue that the law protecting occupants from eviction without court process after thirty days of occupancy does not apply to them, several court decisions have held that residents of three-quarter houses are tenants who are entitled to court process prior to eviction, and that agreements purporting their right to court process are unenforceable.
In addition to dozens of cases on behalf of individual residents, in December 2010 MFY’s Three-Quarter House Project filed a class action lawsuit against an operator for deceptive practices and violations of housing law while TOP organized a rally to bring attention to the problems in houses run by this operator. The Appellate Division, Second Department reinstated four of the plaintiffs’ five claim in January 2014, including claims for unlawful eviction and harassment, and unconscionable contracts.
During 2013, MFY’s Three-Quarter House Project worked in collaboration with the Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Neighbors Together to produce Three-Quarter Houses: The View from the Inside, a report released October 17, 2013. It reveals rampant building violations, dangerous overcrowding, and unlawful evictions in an unregulated industry that preys on people who have no other housing options.
The Three-Quarter House Project receives support from the Oak Foundation and the Scherman Foundation.