New York Attorney General Letitia James today recovered more than $422,000 for hundreds of tenants whose security deposits were illegally withheld by Fairfield Properties (Fairfield), one of the largest residential property owners on Long Island. The 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. As a result of today’s agreement, Fairfield must return security deposits that it illegally withheld to approximately 900 former tenants, including interest, and pay $90,000 in penalties.
“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry that their landlord will illegally withhold money that belongs to them,” said Attorney General 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 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. New York 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 tenant present and did not give tenants the opportunity to make repairs or clean their apartment before vacating it.
As a result of today’s agreement, Fairfield will return $422,598.21 back to 899 former tenants who had some or all of their security deposits withheld. Fairfield will 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 trainings in the future.
“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. “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. 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.”
“I applaud Attorney General James’ action to correct this injustice,” said State Senator Monica R. Martinez. “Fairfield’s arbitrary withholding of monies of hardworking Suffolk residents is unacceptable. 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. “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.”
“Today is an amazing day for housing justice! I am thankful for the great work of Attorney General James and the lengths she continues to go in order to protect New Yorkers,” said Assemblymember Taylor Darling. “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 located in Long Island and it is my hope that we use this momentum to bring even more justice and equity to New Yorkers across the state.”
“I am very pleased with the actions taken by Attorney General James in this matter,” said Assemblymember Charles D. Lavine. “These tenants, through no fault of their own, were denied access to their own money. 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 “.It is a shame that too often legal action is necessary to compel landlords to do right by their paying tenants, but I am so thankful to Attorney General Letitia James and her office for helping to ensure that those who violate the law are held to account and that hardworking New Yorkers are made whole and receive the security deposits that rightfully belong to them.”
“Safeguarding the rights of homeowners and tenants has been central to our work in state government,” said Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages. “Long Islanders are fortunate to have an Attorney General that is laser-focused on addressing our regional needs and has the best interest of working-class New Yorkers at heart.”
“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. “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. As always, thank you to Attorney General James and her team for standing up for our residents.”
“Enforcement by the New York Attorney General is the key to tenants’ rights actually being obeyed in the marketplace,” said Ian Wilder, Executive Director, 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. 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.”
“We applaud Attorney General James for fighting to protect renters’ rights, 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, Founder and President, Minority Millennials. “We should not have to stress about property owners taking advantage of us and pocketing our earnings.”
This agreement is part of Attorney General James’ ongoing efforts to protect tenants and hold bad landlords accountable. In December, Attorney General James barred a Queens property manager from locking tenants out of their homes. In November, she stopped real estate company Compass from denying housing to low-income New Yorkers. In October, Attorney General James and the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force announced a settlement with Greg Fournier and his real estate company, Greenbrook Holdings, for harassing tenants and engaging in unlawful practices in managing its buildings in Brooklyn. In September, Attorney General James secured $4 million from landlords after uncovering an illegal kickback scheme to deregulate apartments.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Rachael C. Anello of the Suffolk Regional Office, with the assistance of student intern Mishaal Bajwa, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General in Charge Kimberly A. Kinirons. The Suffolk Regional Office is part of the Division of Regional Affairs, which is led by Deputy Attorney General Jill Faber and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.