Track the 18 Tenant Protection Bills Now Before the City Council

By Sadef Ali Kully

The City Council announced last week at City Hall the introduction of 18 pieces of legislation that focus on tenant protections, many of which were first proposed months earlier. Here is what has been proposed and how to follow the progress of each bill:

Intro 0030-2018: Landlords Fund Temporary Housing

This bill would require a property owner to deposit money in an escrow account (with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) acting as the escrowee) equal to 10 percent of the rent for five years to fund temporary housing for displaced tenants before a vacate order has been issued. This bill is being sponsored by Councilmember Margaret Chin.

It was originally introduced during the Bloomberg administration but never gained in traction. Councilmember Chin introduced it again in 2014 and earlier this year in January. Chin said in a press conference in January that the bill would “help shift some financial burden from HPD to landlords” who allegedly neglect rent-regulated units to push out tenants in order to create market-rate units. Chin’s office has said in past interviews with City Limits that her district has dealt with incidents where tenants have been forced to vacate their units, by HPD, due to deteriorating conditions.

Intro 0059-2018: Understanding the Impact of Buyouts

This bill would require HPD to report on median market rate rents by community district and number of bedrooms. It would also require persons making buyout offers to disclose such median market rate rents and calculate the number of months of such rent such buyout offer would cover. The bill was originally introduced in January and is being sponsored by Councilmember Robert Cornegy.

A buyout agreement is an agreement where the owner pays the tenant money to vacate his or her apartment. Buyouts are an increasing focus of concern for tenant advocates, because they can be used to coerce tenants to give up a rent-stabilized apartment in neighborhoods where it is hard to find other affordable options.

Intro 0551-2018: Filing Buyout Agreements

This bill would require owners of rent-regulated apartments who enter into buyout agreements with their tenants to file those deals with HPD within 45 days of execution. A failure to file the agreement would result in a civil penalty of $100 per day for every day that the buyout agreement is not timely filed. The bill would also require that HPD annually report to the mayor and Council information concerning filed buyout agreements. This bill is being sponsored by Councilmember Mark Levine.

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Hate crimes office needed to 'make city safer,' council advocates say

By Lisa L. Colangelo

After a week of shocking events that included the spray-painting of swastikas inside a Columbia University professor’s office, the assault of a 33-year-old man leaving a Brooklyn synagogue, and the destruction of statues outside a church, elected officials reiterated the need for a new mayoral office dedicated to hate crimes.

“Rhetoric is not enough; we need action and legislation and government,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, who sponsored the bill that creates an Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, during a Tuesday news conference on the steps of City Hall. “[We are] calling for those concrete steps to protect our people, to make this city safer for all.”

The office would focus on working with agencies on prevention, awareness, investigation and prosecution, as well as the impact of hate crimes on communities, according to the bill. It also would create and implement a “coordinated system for the city’s response to hate crimes.”

Levine stood with several lawmakers, including co-sponsor Councilman Donovan Richards and Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who both pointed out that educating young people is an important part of battling hate crimes.

“We have to make sure the police department isn’t the only agency dealing with this,” Richards said.

During a hearing on the bill last month, NYPD officials said there were 308 confirmed hate crimes this year as of Nov. 11, compared with 303 for the same time period in 2017.

In addition, anti-white, anti-black and anti-Semitic hate crimes increased during the same period, officials said.

“If someone scrawls a swastika, they should understand what the meaning is, how it impacts a Holocaust survivor, how it impacts the community,” Deutsch said.

Levine said he expects the bill, which already has the backing of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, to receive broad support in the chamber.

Police Commissioner James O’Neill addressed the increase in bias incidents during a news conference later in the day, saying the department is beefing up its presence outside houses of worship in the 90th Precinct in Williamsburg.

“Increased reports of criminal mischief, harassment or assault here in the five boroughs concern us a great deal,” O’Neill said. “None of it will ever be tolerated in NYC. I can tell you that NYPD investigators who make up the best and most robust hate crimes task force [will] fully investigate every single complaint.”

Read the full story here.

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NYC Movie Theaters Could Face Fines For Bed Bug Laxity

By Jake Offenhartz

An unfortunate but persistent fact about movie-going in New York is that you might get gnawed by bed bugs. While it's true this can happen basically anywhere in this city, it does seem that the risk is heightened in a dark room full of cushy fabric seats on which multiple strangers sit for hours at a time each day. This is a bummer! No one who shells out $14 for a ticket to, say, Jeepers Creepers 3: The Creeper Walks Among Us, should have to worry about real bloodsucking pests crawling up the carpet and going to town on their neck.

Now, a City Councilmember is hoping legislation can help boot the unwelcome critters from the movies. A new bill introduced this week by Councilman Mark Levine would require theaters to certify on an annual basis that their seats have been inspected and deemed free of bed bugs. Private inspectors would handle the examinations, while the Department of Consumer Affairs would be responsible for oversight.

"New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about what might be lurking in the seats of a movie theater," Levine, who also serves as the Council Health Chair, told Gothamist. "This bill is a simple accountability measure that will ensure our city’s movie theaters are pest free."

He added, “Anyone who has ever had to suffer through a bed bug infestation in their homes knows the tremendous financial and emotional toll it can take." Indeed.

A spokesperson for Levine's office emphasized that their objective wasn't to fear-monger, but rather to reasonably address the outbreaks that seem to happen just about every year. We've previously noted several reports of serious bed bug infestations (and also, rats) at the AMC Empire 25 multiplex in Times Square. Bed bugs have also been spotted at the Pavilion movie theater in Park Slope and at the Sheepshead Bay United Artists movie theater.

It’s unclear at this point if there will be penalties for repeat offenders under the legislation, but theaters that don’t certify that they’re free of bed bugs would be forced to pay $1,000.

In other positive news out of the bed bug accountability world, a recent analysis found that the number of bed bug violations issued to landlords by the Department of Housing and Preservation has dropped by 28 percent in the last five years, which may point to the success of recent legislation forcing landlords to take tenant complaints seriously.

Do we finally have these infernal suckers on the run? Probably not.

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Morningside Heights Tower Tops Out At 33 Stories

By Brendan Krisel

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, NY — A luxury apartment building set to become one of Morningside Heights' tallest buildings officially topped out this week at 385 feet above street level, developers announced.

The Vandewater, developed by the real estate firm Savanna, rises 33 stories above West 122nd street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The 316,416-square-foot development will contain 183 market rate apartments.

Developers hail the building as "a new level of modern living to the neighborhood while" that creates a "visual identity consistent with the iconic architecture of the surrounding area," but at least one local elected official disagrees.

City Councilman Mark Levine called the Vandewater "Exhibit A for the kind of out-of-scale, out-of-context development which NYC needs to rein in," in a tweet this week.

"5 stories in the midst of historic, low-lying Morningside Heights. Zero affordable units. Neighborhood needs to be protected with a rezoning asap," Levine added on Twitter.

SLCE Architects is the architect of record for the building. The Vandewater and its interiors were designed by INC Architecture & Design and the development's landscaping is being handled by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, developers said in a press release.

Sales are expected to launch in 2019 with construction wrapping up in early 2020, developers said.

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Councilman To Hold Flu Shot Event In Washington Heights

By Brendan Krisel

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NY — A city councilman who represents a portion of Washington Heights will hold an event with Walgreens at a neighborhood senior center to discuss the importance of getting vaccinated for the flu, according to a press release.

Councilman Mark Levine will hold the flu awareness event at the Riverstone Senior Center, located at 99 Fort Washington Ave. and West 163rd Street, from 12-3 p.m., according to a press release. Pharmacists from Walgreens will administer flu shots during the event.

The flu shots are covered by most insurances and generally carry a $0 copay, a Walgreens spokesperson said.

More than 23,000 people were hospitalized in New York City in 2017 for the flu, according to a press release. The outbreak was once of the worst to hit the city since the swine flu outbreak in 2009, a Walgreens spokesperson said.

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City Council Plans To Address Taxi Drivers’ Mounting Debt

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — After eight suicides in the industry, the New York City Council is getting ready to tackle mounting debt among taxi drivers.

According to Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Soundview), the City Council has yet to propose any concrete solutions yet, but he believes they’ve taken a big first step.

“We are keeping passing the hot potatoes from one to another, but now, we are going to fix it (sic),” Diaz said.

Diaz chairs the City Council Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, which unanimously passed a bill to authorize a study into the causes of mounting debt among medallion owners.

Eight drivers have committed suicide tin 2018 and many more continue to feel hopeless as they are burdened by mounting debt. Meanwhile, the value of a medallion continued to plummet thanks to the proliferation of app-based pickups.

“Taxi and Limousine Commission, or another agency or office, would be required to determine appropriate action to address the problem,” Diaz said of the bill.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has called for the city to work with banks and lenders to help give drivers some financial help.

Already, TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi has agreed to waive nearly $20 million in fees to help struggling medallion owners.

Councilman Mark Levine (D-Washington Heights) has also proposed a bill that would require the TLC to conduct a study of medallion owners’ financial woes and analyze new ways to assist them pay back debts.

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Old movie theaters are hoping for a Hollywood ending

By Stuart Miller

Tragedy has held sway over comedy at the Metro, a beautiful, old, art deco movie house on the Upper West Side. The building, adorned with a glazed medallion of the Greek dramatic symbols, has sat empty on Broadway between 99th and 100th streets since 2006. In its heyday it showed Marx Brothers comedies and romances starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. At a low point in the 1970s, it became an adult-film theater. But for most of its 85 years, it has screened first-run, independent and foreign films. Down and even out for a time, it was never dark for this long.

In the past dozen years, plans have been announced, then abandoned, for the theater at 2626 Broadway to become an Urban Outfitters, the headquarters for an arts nonprofit, an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, a Blink Fitness and, most recently, a Planet Fitness. The lack of follow-through has frustrated community leaders and infuriated residents who miss the movie theater and accuse the owner of being greedy and unreliable. Now, however, the Metro is once again on the verge of reclamation. Albert Bialek, who bought the theater in 1989, said he is close to signing a deal with a nonprofit to take over the partially landmarked building.

"It's just sad seeing the Metro slowly deteriorating when it could have an enormous impact on the neighborhood," said Gary Bornstein, founder of Wingspan Arts, the nonprofit that had a handshake deal to take over the theater in 2012.

In a city with 8.6 million residents packed within 303 square miles, aging movie theaters have become a preservation battleground that often pits developers looking to make a profit against elected officials eager to maintain quality of life and residents seeking communal and cultural gathering spaces. After notable failures in recent years such as the American Theater in the Bronx, which is now a Marshalls, and successes such as the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, now a live-performance venue, communities are hoping to find a road map for success with long-empty theaters such as the Metro, RKO Keith in Flushing and the Hamilton in Harlem, among several others.

"There's a desperate need for any space geared toward the community—something for young people and seniors," said Assemblyman Ron Kim, who is eyeing the RKO Keith in his Queens district. Demolition and plans for a large glass condo tower have apparently stalled, and Kim hopes a coming downturn in the Flushing condo market could give the site new life. "There's no place to meet and interact." 

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Year One of the NYC Tenant Right to Counsel Program

By Kelly Regan

Under a 2017 law, New York City provides free legal assistance for qualified tenants facing eviction in housing court. According to a new report released by the city’s Office of Civil Justice (OCJ), the “Universal Access” program has kept more than 21,000 renters in their homes during 2018.

The report, “Universal Access to Legal Services: A Report on Year One of Implementation in New York City,” states that during fiscal 2018, 21,955 city residents across 7,847 households who were threatened with eviction were able to remain in their homes after securing legal representation from OCJ-funded lawyers. Furthermore, in the last quarter of fiscal 2018, approximately 34 percent of tenants citywide who were in Housing Court for eviction proceedings were represented by counsel.

The report hails these numbers an essential step toward leveling the playing field for NYC’s low-income tenants, “not only saving thousands of tenancies but also promoting the preservation of affordable housing and neighborhood stability.”

As Next City has reported, after more than three years of community organizing in support of the bill, last year New York became the first U.S. city to pass a right-to-counsel law for housing court. The OCJ report analyzes Year One of what will be a five-year rollout of the plan across the city. As of late 2018, only 15 of the city’s 211 ZIP codes are now active in the program.

Gothamist reports that housing advocates have called the initial rollout promising, but uneven. According to the website, “Court-appointed lawyers have started to transform the predatory environment of housing court, resulting in fewer evictions, but some eligible tenants still slip through the cracks, and implementation has been more successful in some boroughs than others.”

Figures cited in the report underscore that point. Overall, in the 15 zip codes that have adopted tenant protections, approximately 56 percent of tenants in Housing Court received legal assistance. Breaking it down by borough, Staten Island claimed the highest legal representation rate, at 77 percent, followed by Brooklyn at 72 percent, Manhattan at 61 percent, The Bronx at 52 percent, and Queens at just 41 percent.

What’s next? According to WNYC, council members Vanessa Gibson and Mark Levine have introduced legislation that would raise the income threshold from 200 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty line, which would bring under the umbrella any tenants making the $15 NYC minimum wage.

Since New York’s law took effect, in August 2017, San Francisco voters approved a similar measure, Proposition F, earlier this year.

Read the full story here.

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Buscan enfrentar aumento de crímenes de odio en NYC

By Jose Martinez

Tras una semana de un brutal ataque racial en Brooklyn que dejó a una mujer inmigrante internada en un hospital por varios días, el Comité de Seguridad Pública del Concejo Municipal realizó una audiencia para estudiar formas de prevenir el incremento de este tipo de hechos en NYC.

De acuerdo con el Departamento de Policía de la Ciudad de Nueva York (NYPD), Ann Marie Washington, una mujer originaria de Trinidad que fue golpeada y apuñalada por un hombre blanco que le gritó insultos raciales en la estación Church Avenue del Subway en Brooklyn, hace parte de un número creciente de crímenes de odio que asciende a 309 en lo que va corrido del año, un aumento del 44% en comparación con el 2017.

Estas cifras tienen sumamente preocupados a varios concejales, especialmente a los miembros de este Comité, liderado por el concejal Donovan Richards, quienes tuvieron la oportunidad de conocer de mano del director ejecutivo de Asuntos Legislativos, Oleg Chernyavsky y el comandante en jefe de la Fuerza de Tarea contra los Crímenes de Odio del NYPD, el Inspector Adjunto Mark Molinari, como esta una unidad especial investiga crímenes de odio e incidentes relacionados.

Según Richards, el incremento en crímenes de odio en NYC ha tenido efecto en algunas comunidades en particular, creando miedo y preocupación sobre seguridad, especialmente tras las elecciones presidenciales de 2016.

Por esta razón, la audiencia también sirvió de escenario para presentar dos proyectos de ley que buscan enfrentar el creciente clima de odio que afecta a la Gran Manzana.

Por un lado, la Int 1234, presentada por los concejales Mark Levine y Laurie A. Cumbo, busca crear una oficina para la prevención de delitos de odio para así coordinar respuestas y divulgación entre las agencias de la ciudad.

De acuerdo con el documento, la oficina estaría liderada por un coordinador que asesoraría y ayudaría al Alcalde en la planificación e implementación de planes de coordinación y cooperación entre agencias bajo la jurisdicción de la Alcaldía que están involucradas en la prevención, concientización, investigación y enjuiciamiento e impacto en las comunidades de delitos de odio.

Por otro lado, la T2018, promovida por los concejales Chaim M. Deutsch y Donovan J. Richards, requeriría que la oficina para la prevención de crímenes de odio lleve a cabo actividades de educación y capacitación.

Además de incluir la coordinación con agencias municipales pertinentes, organizaciones interreligiosas, grupos comunitarios y grupos de derechos humanos y civiles, la legislación permitiría que la oficina trabaje en cooperación con el Departamento de Educación para crear un plan de estudios K-12 que aborde los problemas relacionados con los delitos de odio.

Read the full story here.

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Uptown Landlord Harasses Tenants By Withholding Keys: Reports

By Brendan Krisel

UPPER MANHATTAN, NY — Tenants of an Upper Manhattan building claim that their landlord's efforts to modernize the apartment complex's security system are a thinly-veiled attempt at harassment, according to reports and local officials.

Building managers at 765 Riverside Drive, a six-story building located near West 155th Street, installed an electronic key fob system to access the apartment complex's lobby door but are making residents jump through hoops to use it, CBS2 first reported.

Only residents with their names on an apartment lease are approved for a key fob, and residents are being forced to put down a $50 security deposit for the elecronic key, according to the report.

Resident Kazu Hano told CBS2 that he's been living in the building for 50 years, but his wife's name is not on the lease. In order to get her a key fob, Hano had to show a marriage certificate.

"We have one, but they said 'you gotta make a copy and send it to management' and they'll decide whether to give me a key," Hano told CBS2.

City Councilman Mark Levine said that the landlord's key fob policy is in clear violation of city regulations. Rules state that landlords are obligated to provide two keys per apartment and that they are not allowed to charge residents to use them.

"It's part of the playbook of landlords who are trying to push people out," Levine told CBS2.

A spokesman for Levine told Patch that the councilman has connected the building's residents with tenant advocates from the group Pa'Lante Harlem.

"The next steps would be to communicate with management to find a solution and/or file a complaint with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR)," Levine told Patch.

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