On Tuesday afternoon, the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings unanimously passed 18 bills that aim to protect tenants from harassment and displacement. The full Council will vote on the legislation Wednesday.
Among those items passed are 11 of the 12 bills in the Stand for Tenant Safety package, which aims to address the use of construction as a type of tenant harassment. A large coalition of tenant and community organizations has been advocating for the bills since 2015. Members of the Progressive caucus also recently penned an op-ed calling on the Council to pass the package.
“Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done,” wrote Council members Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos in Gotham Gazette on July 31.
The other seven bills include a package aimed at strengthening the city’s laws concerning harassment of all types and a bill that seeks to improve the city’s fine-collection by denying landlords with certain levels of debt the ability to obtain work permits (excepting for repairs necessary to correct dangerous situations).
The remaining Stand for Tenant Safety bill, which would create a Real Time Enforcement unit in the Department of Buildings (DOB) that provides rapid responses to certain types of complaints and more frequent investigations, is still under discussion. DOB officials have in the past expressed strong reservations about the bill, saying it would be impossible to execute. Another bill, relating to protecting non-rent-regulated tenants from harassment, has also been tabled, Councilmember Rosenthal’s office said.
Officials from DOB and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) expressed concerns about some of the other bills, as well, at earlier hearings. Rosenthal’s office says tweaks were made to the bills in some cases; for instance, the the amount of time that the DOB is given to begin implementing one of the bills was extended from 120 days to a year. Rosenthal expresses confidence that the bills would pass the full Council and be signed by the mayor.
See below for short summaries of the 18 bills.
The Stand for Tenant Safety Bills
1. 0918 – Restricts when a landlord can use a licensed professional to certify a construction project based on the building’s history of harassment, and requires more oversight by DOB for rent-regulated buildings including buildings subject to a rent overcharge application.*
2. 0924 – Requires DOB to include a date by which an owner must correct a violation in all vacate orders
3. 0926 – Establishes an interagency task force to evaluate each agency’s efforts to monitor construction work in occupied multi-family housing
4.0930 – Makes it easier to foreclose on landlords with outstanding fines from Environmental Control Board (ECB) violations
5.0931 – Increases circumstances in which city can place a lien on a property for failure to pay ECB fines
6.0936 – Improves content and enforceability of tenant protection plans, which must be posted whenever construction work takes place
7.0938 – Requires DOB to create a watch list of bad contractors and to provide extra oversight whenever a contractor on the list performs work
8.0939 – Increases penalties for work without permit
9.0940 – Increases penalties for violation of a stop work order
10. 0944 – Creates additional penalties for work without a permit and increased oversight of buildings where such work has occurred; requires posting of occupancy status of buildings for any building where construction permit has been issued
11.0960 – Requires landlord to post Safe Construction Bill of Rights
The tenant harassment bills
12. 0347 – Allows tenants who prevail in harassment cases to collect compensatory damages (or $1000) from landlord in addition to attorneys’ fees and costs; a court can also issue punitive damages to the landlord.
13. 1523 – Establishes an Office of the Tenant Advocate within DOB
14.1530 – Creates a “rebuttable presumption of harassment”: tenants don’t have to prove that a harassing act or omission caused or was intended to cause displacement; landlords are instead guilty of harassment if they commit one of a list of harassing acts or omissions
15.1548 – Expands definition of tenant harassment to include situations where owner repeatedly contacts tenant
16.1556 – Allows tenants to sue for harassment if landlord repeatedly interrupts essential services or engages in frivolous court proceedings
17.1556 – Increases civil penalties for harassment
The permits bill
18. 1133 – Denies work permits when there is a certain amount of charges unpaid to city, with exceptions
*Correction: Originally stated that 0918 requires more DOB oversight for buildings subject to a rent overcharge application. In fact, 0918 requires more DOB oversight for rent-regulated buildings, including those subject to a rent overcharge application.