In common parlance the term harassment is often used broadly to describe any annoying or antagonistic behavior, but the legal definition of harassment in landlord/tenant law is more specific.
The Tenant Protection Act, or Local Law 7, passed in March 2008, created a legal claim for New York City tenants if their landlord is engaging in specific actions, or failing to comply with legal obligations, in a concerted effort to force the tenants out of their apartment, or to pressure the tenants to give up their rights. A tenant may file a claim for harassment under local law 7 in housing court, after first contacting the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), or the tenant may raise harassment as a defense or counterclaim to a housing court case brought by the landlord.
Some of the things that the court will look for to determine whether the landlord is engaging in harassment are:
1) use of force or threats against legal occupants
2) repeated interruptions or discontinuance of heat, hot water, or other essential services for an extended period of time
3) failure to comply with a vacate order
4) filing repeated frivolous court proceedings
5) removing /destroying the belongings of any legal occupant, or
6) interfering with the ability of a lawful occupant to enter the building by removing or tampering with the entry door and/or door lock.
Rent stabilized and rent controlled tenants may also file a harassment complaint with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). The complaint form is available here.