City Council and de Blasio Administration Seek Compromise on Tenant Protection Laws
City Councilmembers and the de Blasio administration are set to discuss a compromise version of a bill that would require property owners seeking building permits to first demonstrate that they had not harassed their tenants. The proposed law, Intro 152-A, sponsored by Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander, was one of four tenant-protection bills recently discussed at a recent hearing.
Certificates of No Harassment have been required for decades when owners of Single-Room Occupancy buildings have applied for permits, and they also have been mandated as part of the rezonings of “special districts” in the city, like the West Chelsea District.
The Lander bill would expand the requirement citywide, mandating that the buildings commissioner not issue a permit for major alterations unless an owner signed an affidavit pledging not to harass his tenants, filed a tenant-protection plan to ensure that the alteration work didn’t harm residents, and produced a document from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development certifying that there had been no harassment of tenants over the previous three years.
The bill defines harassment to include “the use or threatened use of force” as well as “the interruption or discontinuance of essential services.”
The bill was originally authored by current Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer when she was a councilmember. When she left the council in 2014 to become Manhattan borough president, Lander became lead sponsor. According to Lander, it’s coming up for action now because of concerns tenant advocates have that Mayor de Blasio’s rezonings will increase the incentives for owners to try to drive low-income tenants out of their buildings. Lander says he saw the process play out along Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue after a 2003 rezoning there. “When Fourth Avenue got rezoned, it became in the interests of some real-estate operators to buy those buildings, harass and displace the existing rent-stabilized tenants and then build a brand new building.”
However, Vito Mustaciuolo, Deputy Commissioner for HPD’s Office of Enforcement and Neighborhood Services, has a negative view of the bill and recently testified before the council that the bill “would cause administrative delays impacting construction of apartments all over the city... some areas of the city have [many] unregulated buildings, where the landlord doesn’t need to harass tenants, because it isn’t illegal to raise the rent.”
HPD also argued that the de Blasio administration has invested considerably in tenant protection services—last September, the mayor announced $46.3 million in anti-eviction legal services in the 2016 budget. According to the city, this funding can serve 32,000 apartments. The city also formed the Tenant Harassment Prevention Taskforce last summer to target the city’s worst-offending landlords.
Advocates for the bill, however, are proposing a compromise. They’re suggesting a two-tier system where a certificate of no harassment is issued automatically unless a check of an HPD database reveals any red flags, like complaints of harassment, code violations, aggressive rent increases and housing court cases. In cases where that database hints at problems, the owner would face a hearing. If the concerns about harassment are found to be baseless, the permit would be issued. If, however, the harassment claims are substantiated, the owner would have to either abandon the permit request or agree to a “cure” including providing permanently affordable housing at the site.