James Recovers Over $422,000 for Hundreds of Long Island Tenants Illegally Denied Security Deposits
New York Attorney General Letitia James recovered more than $422,000 for hundreds of tenants whose security deposits were illegally withheld by Fairfield Properties, one of the largest residential property owners on Long Island.
The Melville-based real estate company illegally withheld full or partial security deposits without providing tenants with a written itemized list of deductions, inspected apartments without the tenant present, and did not allow tenants to make repairs before vacating their apartment to avoid penalties.
“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry that their landlord will illegally withhold money that belongs to them,” James said. “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 with 13,620 rental units in Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens counties. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) received complaints from tenants that Fairfield was withholding their security deposits, and after an investigation, OAG found that the real estate company routinely violated several housing and tenant protection laws.
New York law requires landlords to provide an itemized list of any deductions on security deposits within 14 days or else a security deposit must be returned in full. Fairfield withheld full security deposits or returned partial deposits without providing tenants a written itemized list of deductions.
The law also requires landlords to give tenants written notice of their right to be present when the apartment is inspected and must allow tenants the opportunity to clean or fix anything that would be deducted from their security deposit. Fairfield routinely inspected apartments without the tenants present and did not give them the opportunity to make repairs or clean their apartment before vacating it.
As a result of the agreement, Fairfield will return $422,598.21 back to 899 former tenants who had some or all of their security deposits withheld, contact former tenants and send them their checks. The company will also pay $90,000 in penalties to the state and will be required to provide reports to OAG about its compliance with this agreement. The company has agreed to comply with all laws regarding security deposits and must send certificates affirming their compliance every year or whenever requested by OAG for three years. They will also train current staff on correct security deposit procedures and will provide annual training sessions in the future.
Local elected officials expressed the approval of this decision.
“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 (D-Brentwood). “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.”
“Fairfield’s arbitrary withholding of monies of hardworking Suffolk residents is unacceptable,” said State Senator Monica R. Martinez (D, WF-Brentwood). “As chair of the Local Government Committee in the Senate, housing is a top priority and I’m committed to partnering with the attorney general to work together on improving the quality of life of all Suffolk residents.”
“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 (D-Garden City).
“Today is an amazing day for housing justice!” said Assemblymember Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead). “There must be protections and accountability in housing, and we have zero tolerance for landlords who engage in illegal and advantageous practices especially to the detriment of tenants. This massive recovery of over $422,000 is a major victory for the tenants of Fairfield Properties, and it is my hope that we use this momentum to bring even more justice and equity to New Yorkers across the state.”
“These tenants, through no fault of their own, were denied access to their own money,” said Assemblymember Charles D. Lavine (D-Glen Cove). “With inflation causing the cost of just about everything to rise and so many other everyday stresses to contend with, they now at least have one less financial burden to concern themselves with.”
“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,” said Assemblymember Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Babylon). “It is a shame that too often legal action is necessary to compel landlords to do right by their paying tenants.”
“Safeguarding the rights of homeowners and tenants has been central to our work in state government,” said Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages (D-Valley Stream).
“When renters provide security deposits, they are doing so in good faith that the landlord will return the deposit at the end of the lease if all criteria is met by the tenant,” said Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-Wyandanch). “As elected officials, our primary duty is to serve as the voice for our residents and ensure they are able to have faith in our institutions. A large company illegally holding back funds from residents who need it the most, including low-income families and seniors, is disappointing at best. This agreement is a message to other landlords and property owners that they will be held accountable and that this practice will not be tolerated.”
Ian Wilder, the executive director of Long Island Housing Services, added, “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. Tenants regularly find themselves without the resources to ensure that their rights are obeyed.”
“[There are] a large portion of tenants across the region are young professionals, minorities, and millennials who work tirelessly to afford quality housing on Long Island,” said Dan Lloyd, the founder and president of Minority Millennials. “We should not have to stress about property owners taking advantage of us and pocketing our earnings.”