Council passes 17 bills to protect tenants from bad landlords

By Sabrina Mallot

Last fall, the City Council introduced a package of 18 bills aimed at preventing tenants from being displaced due to aggressive tactics from landlords like exploitative buyout agreements or nuisance construction. On Wednesday, May 8, all but one passed.

They still require the mayor’s signature, but he has indicated his support for them.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Jane Meyer said, “From free access to legal services in housing court to the new Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, this administration has been fighting for tenants from day one. These bills will help bolster our efforts to protect all New Yorkers.”

Here is a rundown of what each of the City Council bills will do:

  1. Property owners will be required to share certain information about the terms of a buyout agreement a tenant is entering into with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) within 90 days. The bill’s sponsor is Mark Levine.
  2. Certain disclosures would also have to be made when anyone makes a buyout offer. This bill would also require the HPD to report on median asking rents, disaggregated by community district and number of bedrooms.  The bill’s sponsor is Housing Committee Chair Robert Cornegy.
  3. Owners of multiple dwellings must obtain the previous four years of rental history from the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for each unit, if available, and provide that information to the current tenants of each unit. Levine sponsored this bill.

 “For too long, residents have been unaware of their legal rent as prescribed by the state, overpaying landlords hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year,” Levine said. “Additionally, the practice of allowing landlords to make buyout agreements behind closed doors was a regulatory blind-spot that lent itself to abuse.”

  • Owners of residential buildings of fewer than 35 units that have an average of three or more hazardous or major violations per unit (or at least two open code violations per units in buildings with 35 or more units) will be denied building permits. This bill is sponsored by Justin Brannan.
  • Another bill is aimed at discovering false statements made by owners of rent regulated and occupied housing, by requiring the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Department of Finance (DOF) to share information.

Additionally this bill would require DOB to request information from the DCHR to identify false statements regarding occupied and rent-regulated housing and require DOB to conduct an audit of an owner’s whole portfolio of properties using information obtained from DOF if the owner has been caught either failing to obtain a building permit or submitting false statements regarding occupied and rent-regulated housing on an application for a building permit.

The sponsor of this bill is Richie Torres.

“We refuse to stand by idly while real estate companies and bad landlords play Russian roulette with the safety of tenants and the affordability of rent,” Torres said.

  • Design professionals who submit certified applications for construction approval that contain errors that could result in a stop work order could face sanctions by the DOB. It would also require that the DOB maintain a database of registered design professionals who have been excluded, suspended or otherwise sanctioned by DOB.

Antonio Reynoso, the bill’s sponsor, said, “Regardless of whether false information is submitted as a result of negligence or in an attempt to game the system, the Department of Buildings should be authorized to hold offenders accountable.”

  • Penalties for violating DOB’s professional certification program would also apply to the offending professional’s supervisor as well as the professional personally. This bill’s sponsor is Alicka Ampry-Samuel.
  • In buildings where there’s been a violation issued, owners would have to provide copies of the notice of violation to residents. Additionally, the DOB would have to create a pamphlet or flyer explaining the adjudication process for such violations, to be distributed with the copies of notices of violations. Fernando Cabrera is the bill’s sponsor.
  • The DOB would be required to issue a stop work order if an inspector is unable to gain access to a construction site and has reason to believe that work is being done in violation of the law. The bill’s sponsor is Cornegy.
  • Another Cornegy bill would require the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to annually audit the records of at least 20 percent of licensed process servers who have served at least one summons, subpoena, notice, citation or other process for a housing court proceeding. The bill would also require that process servers notify the DCA every six months if they have served process for a housing court proceeding. This bill would further require that the DCA post on its website, and notify process serving agencies, when a process server has been disciplined, or where the process server’s license has been suspended, revoked, or license renewal denied.
  • Owners who have been found to lie about occupancy status on a construction application would have work permits denied for one year following the discovery of work being done in an occupied building. The bill’s sponsor is Keith Powers.

“This legislation protects tenants from landlord harassment and being forced out by means of construction,” said Powers, “and I am glad to have the support of the Council and my colleagues in putting tenants first.”

  1. The DOB would have to approve Tenant Protection Plans prior to construction and periodically inspect construction sites to ensure compliance with the plans. The bill’s sponsor is Carlina Rivera.

“New York City tenants are under constant threat in 2019 from bad-acting landlords and developers fueled by rampant over-speculation,” Rivera said.

  1. The DOB will be required to perform preliminary inspections to verify the occupancy status of purportedly unoccupied buildings undergoing construction. The bill’s sponsor is Ampry-Samuel.
  2. The city’s online property owner registry, maintained by the HPD, would be expanded to include DOB violations related to construction as harassment, including violations of work without a permit and work in violation of a stop work order. It would also require HPD to include rent overcharge information from New York State Homes and Community Renewal and incorporate that information into the registry, if available. The sponsor is Diana Ayala.
  3. The responsibility of retaining a design professional to prepare a tenant protection plan from building owners to contractors. The bill would require statements by buildings owners and contractors regarding the occupancy of a building and the scope of work of a construction project. Finally, this bill would create the option to submit phased tenant protection plans to reflect the current stage of work. The sponsor is Helen Rosenthal.
  4. Another Rosenthal bill would require that construction documents for alterations mention any occupied units in the building. The bill would also establish specific civil and criminal penalties for submitting false information to obtain a building permit. Fines would be no less than $10,000 for the first offense, and no less than $25,000 for each subsequent offense.
  5. Upon learning of an immediately hazardous violation at a property, the DOB and HPD would be required to audit Certificates of Correction. Rosenthal also sponsored this bill.

“Construction as a form of tenant harassment not only contributes to our affordable housing crisis, it puts tenant safety at risk,” Rosenthal said.

“The necessity for my three bills is illustrated by cases across the city, including a building in my district which has lost two thirds of its 300 rent-stabilized apartments since 2007. This exodus of tenants has been driven by massive construction projects, and the building owner’s persistent attempts to evade existing tenant protection laws, including routinely lying about the presence of rent regulated tenants in construction documents filed with the city. These malicious actions meant to displace tenants are beyond unacceptable, and through the leadership of Speaker Johnson, we are taking action.”

The Council also voted to extend the June 1 compliance date for Local Law 196, which requires site safety training for construction workers and on legislation that would require building owners post relevant hurricane evacuation information in common areas.

The one piece of legislation that didn’t make the cut was Intro 30 to recover relocation expenses incurred by the HPD pursuant to a vacate order. That bill’s sponsor is Margaret Chin.

Following the vote, the Real Estate Board of New York said it supports action that cracks down on unscrupulous landlords.

“We believe it is important to deter tenant harassment and target enforcement on bad actors,” said REBNY President John Banks. “We support the Council for passing legislation to address the issue of unlawful harassment and hope the city will monitor the impact of new regulations to ensure the vast majority of responsible owners are not negatively impacted by added layers of unnecessary paperwork.” 

 

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