City Council Passes Package of Anti-Harassment and Tenant Safety Bills
The New York City Council recently passed a package of bills intended to provide tenants greater protection from landlord harassment and unsafe conditions. Several of the bills redefine the legal parameters of tenant harassment. Some of the bills also change penalties for harassment. Others were drafted to increase tenant awareness of harassment protections through notice requirements, tenant protection plan requirements, and maintenance of a contractor watch list by the DOB. Finally, two bills create a review of the city’s response to the issue and a new advocacy office for tenants in the DOB.
Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign the bills into law. All of them will become enforceable 120 days after the mayor signs them. Here is a brief overview of the bills:
Housing Court Harassment Cases
This package of legislation significantly expands harassment protections for tenants by making it easier to prove harassment in certain cases; preventing landlords from visiting or contacting tenants at odd hours without consent; and allowing victims of harassment to recover damages and reasonable attorney fees.
Int. 347-A, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal. Allows tenants who prevail in harassment cases to collect compensatory damages (or $1,000) from the offending landlord, in addition to attorneys’ fees and costs. This bill also allows a court to issue punitive damages for such violations. It will go into effect 90 days after being signed into law.
Int. 1530-A, sponsored by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The bill provides that, where a landlord commits a harassing act, there is a rebuttable presumption that the landlord intended that act to force a tenant out. As a result, owners must be able to prove that their actions do not constitute harassment.
Specifically, the bill amends paragraph 48 of §27-2004 to read: “Except where otherwise provided, the term ‘harassment’ shall mean any act or omission by or on behalf of an owner that (i) causes or is intended to cause any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of a dwelling unit to vacate such dwelling unit or to surrender or waive any rights in relation to such occupancy, and (ii) includes one or more of the [following:] following acts or omissions, provided that there shall be a rebuttable presumption that such acts or omissions were intended to cause such person to vacate such dwelling unit or to surrender or waive any rights in relation to such occupancy.”
Int. 1548-A, sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine. The bill expands the definition of “tenant harassment” to include situations where an owner repeatedly contacts or visits the tenant at unusual hours or in a manner reasonably expected to harass the tenant, unless the tenant has given consent in writing to be contacted at such hours or in such manner.
Examples include repeatedly calling or visiting units on Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays; at times other than regular business hours; and “in such a manner as can reasonably be expected to abuse or harass such person, provided that if such person has notified such owner in writing that such person consents to being contacted or visited at specified hours or in a specified manner, such owner may also contact or visit such person during such specified hours and in such specified manner, and provided further that an owner may contact or visit such person for reasons specifically authorized or mandated by law or rule.”
Int. 1549-A, sponsored by Council Member Carlos Menchaca. The bill allows tenants to pursue harassment actions if the owner of their building engages in repeated interruptions of essential services throughout the building or commences frivolous court proceedings throughout the building.
The impetus behind this amendment is to allow a tenant to claim harassment based on a landlord’s previous manner of engagement with other tenants. An owner’s actions are perceived in relations to all tenants of a building cumulatively as opposed to individually.
Int. 1556, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams. The bill increases the minimum penalty for violations of the tenant harassment statute to $2,000 from $1,000, and, for owners where there was a previous finding of harassment within the preceding five years, increase the minimum penalty to $4,000 from $2,000.
Construction and DOB Practices
This package of bills is intended to address the issue of owners creating hazardous construction conditions to push tenants out of their homes. Additionally, this package includes bill intended to ensure that contractors who engage in construction work without required permits or who violate stop work orders are held accountable for their actions.
Int. 1523-A, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal. The bill establishes an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. The duties of the office include: monitoring tenant protection plans; inspecting sites that have tenant protection plans in place; establishing lines of communication to more effectively address tenants’ concerns and complaints; and publishing quarterly reports on findings.
Int. 918-A, sponsored by Council Member Margaret Chin. The bill requires the DOB to audit 25 percent of professionally certified applications for rent-regulated buildings, low-income housing projects, or multiple dwellings that are the subject of a rent overcharge application and which are at least 25 percent occupied, on a monthly basis. Owners who have been found guilty of tenant harassment will be prohibited from submitting professional certified applications.
Int. 924-A, sponsored by Council Member Rafael Espinal. The bill requires the DOB to include the date by which an owner must certify the correction of any and all violations along with a written vacate order.
Int. 926-A, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick. The bill creates a task force consisting of members appointed by the New York City Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Environmental Protection, the City Council, and the mayor. Among its primary functions, the task force would evaluate the current practices of the individual agencies represented in the task force with regard to construction and renovation by landlords in occupied residential buildings, publish a report of its findings, and provide recommendations to improve inter-agency coordination and sharing of information.
Int. 930-A, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos. The bill expands the definition of “distressed” to include buildings that are subject to Environmental Control Board (ECB) judgments as a result of building code violations in the amount of a lien-to-value ratio equal to or greater than 25 percent. This bill would also require the Department of Finance to report on tax lien activities as a result of ECB debt, including the number of buildings subject to tax liens for ECB judgment debts, the location of the buildings, and the number of dwelling units in each building, as well as recommend whether a 25 percent lien-to-value ratio is an appropriate threshold for a property to be considered distressed.
Int. 931-B, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos. The bill allows the city to impose tax liens on buildings that contain 20 or more dwelling units where the total value of all such judgments against the building is $60,000 or more, or a building that contains between six and 19 dwelling units, where the value of the judgments is $30,000 or more. The bill contains exceptions for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s preservation projects.
Int. 936-A, sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine. The bill amends the information that must be included in tenant protection plans, which are generally required when construction work will take place in an occupied residential building, and prescribes measures that the DOB and owners must take in order to ensure compliance with the tenant protection plan. The bill would also require that DOB perform inspections to ensure that sites are complying with their applicable tenant protection plans.
Int. 938-A, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso. The bill requires the DOB to compile and maintain a watch list of contractors who have been found to have performed work without a required permit in the preceding two years. The bill would also require the DOB to engage in increased oversight of any worksite where a contractor included on the watch list works, and to provide a timeline under which a contractor could be removed from the watch list.
Int. 939-A, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso. The bill increases the penalties for work without a permit on a one-or two-family dwelling from four times the amount of the fee for such permit to six times, and for work without a permit on all other buildings from 14 times to 21 times.
Int. 940-A, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso. The bill increases the penalties for violating a stop work order from $5,000 to $6,000 for the initial violation and from $10,000 to $12,000 for subsequent violations.
Int. 944-A, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal. The bill imposes additional penalties for performing construction work without a permit and increases oversight for buildings where such work has been performed. It would also require the posting of information concerning the occupancy status of a building subject to a permit.
Int. 960-A, sponsored by Rosie Mendez. The bill requires that a “Safe Construction Bill of Rights” be posted for occupants of a dwelling when the owner seeks to conduct any construction work that requires a permit from the DOB.
Int. 1133-A, sponsored by Council Member James Vacca. The bill allows the DOB to withhold from issuing permits to buildings that owe $25,000 or more in unpaid ECB judgments or other charges to the city. Furthermore, when applying for a permit, the owner will be required to provide a statement affirming that there are not $25,000 or more in charges owed to the city for the property in question, and will be required to provide the owner’s full name, business address, a list of properties owned by the owner, and any arrears owed on those properties.
There are some exceptions. Permits shall be issued in instances in which: (1) the owner has entered into an agreement with the Department of Finance to settle any outstanding civil penalties that includes a statement from the department saying that the owner is in compliance with the agreement; (2) emergency repairs are deemed necessary; (3) a portion of the property is owned by a tenant who is not in arrears; and (4) foreclosure proceedings are being resolved.