Bills Proposed to Protect Tenants During Construction Work

The City Council recently introduced a package of 12 bills aimed at increasing protections for tenants who feel the Department of Buildings doesn’t adequately monitor owners who carry out unpleasant, and often dangerous, building renovations.

One of the bills being introduced would require the DOB to inspect all construction projects in buildings that are more than 10 percent occupied, or are owned by landlords who have previously been found guilty of harassment. Under current law, certified landlords have the option to bypass a full DOB inspection, on the condition that they will conduct an inspection themselves.

Another piece of legislation would give the city the power to put liens on apartment buildings with outstanding Environmental Control Board fines. 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. The bill package calls for doubling fines for landlords who commence construction without a permit (from four times the permit fee up to eight), as well as those who continue construction after a stop work order has been issued (from $5,000 to $10,000 for the first violation).

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.

Additionally, a new DOB unit would respond specifically to complaints about non-permitted construction work. Councilmember Stephen Levin says that the unit would aim to respond to complaints within two hours. Other council members sponsoring the bills are Margaret Chin, Rafael Espinal, Daniel R. Garodnick, Corey Johnson, Ben J. Kallos, Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca, Rosie Mendez, Antonio Reynoso, and Helen Rosenthal, all Democrats.