New Legislation Introduced to Bolster Tenant Safety

Photo: Met Council on Housing Twitter.

Photo: Met Council on Housing Twitter.
Photo: Met Council on Housing Twitter.

Local elected officials and tenant activists gathered at City Hall a short time ago to unveil a package of 12 bills meant to protect rent-stabilized residents from unscrupulous landlords and to compel the Department of Buildings to do a better job of safety enforcement.

The “Stand For Safety Coalition” also released a report prepared by the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center. It is based on 150 surveys of tenants in buildings undergoing construction and an analysis of Buildings Department records. Among the findings (keep in mind the study is focused on buildings undergoing renovations, not all buildings):

  • 53% of respondents were offered buyouts by building owners
  • 61% were not given any advance notice that construction was about to begin
  • 71% reported that construction was a threat to their health and safety
  • 39% said they had frequent disruptions of heat
  • The average time between a complaint being filed with the Buildings Department and an inspection was more than 42 days.
  • Out of 46 complaints for landlords operating contrary to “Stop Work Orders” none resulted in violations.
  • The average time that fines go unpaid is 900 days.

Here’s how the New York Times characterized the legislative proposals:

The bills seek to have the city’s Buildings Department play a more aggressive role by responding to construction complaints faster and increasing inspections to confirm landlords’ compliance with safety requirements… (Stephen) Mr. Levin, a Democrat, is the lead sponsor of a bill that would create a unit within the Buildings Department dedicated to responding to complaints related to work without permits and to extensive renovations, which the bill defines as work in more than 10 percent of a building. This “real time enforcement unit,” Mr. Levin said, would respond within two hours after a complaint about unpermitted work, which would address the problem of missed violations because inspectors show up after the work has stopped. Two other bills target the practice of landlords falsely claiming their buildings are unoccupied. The bills call for the Buildings Department to review occupancy claims in certain cases, rather than rely on the word of owners or owners’ agents, as it does now… Another bill would require the Buildings Department to inspect a building within seven days after renovations start to ensure that landlords have prepared and complied with tenant-protection plans; complaints from tenants regarding the work would lead to subsequent inspections. The safety plans would also have to be posted in the lobbies and on each floor of affected buildings, and on the department’s website. Other bills would increase fines and violations for illegal construction work and create a watch list of contractors with a history of working without permits, so that they would be subject to more oversight.

District 1 City Council member Maragret Chin is among the sponsors. In a statement, she said:

Far too many bad landlords are getting away with knowingly providing the city Department of Buildings with false information through self-certification. This process, which allows the landlord to hire his own engineer and architect to rubber stamp inspections for work permits, is often the first step in the process to harass tenants through construction. I look forward to working with my Council colleagues, city officials, and community advocates to pass this comprehensive legislative package and stop tenant harassment before it has the chance to begin.

District 2 Council member Rosie Mendez is also a sponsor. She said:

I am proud to stand with the STS Coalition and my Council colleagues. For far too long some of the city’s worst property owners have used devious, despicable tactics, as well as construction renovations to harass and intimidate tenants. As you will see from the survey’s results, the end result of lax oversight by the Department of Buildings (DOB) is the harassment of thousands of New Yorkers annually. If DOB wants to right a wrong, then the agency must stand with us to initiate reforms that will ensure that construction is safe with tenants in residency and that tenants get the help they need. The intent of this legislative package is to make New York City the best and safest place to live, work, and play. I believe that is something worth working for.

The coalition includes local organizations Cooper Square Committee, CAAAV, GOLES and Asian Americans for Equality.


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