City Council Passes Tenant Harassment and Displacement Legislation
The City Council recently passed 17 bills meant to protect tenants and prevent landlords from harassing them out of their apartments. The legislative package includes new rules on renovations, tenant buyouts, housing court process servers, and more. With its passage, owners cannot use construction as a means of harassment or falsify information on construction documents without being penalized. The legislation also increases enforcement of existing tenant protection laws, requires owners to obtain and release four years of rental history to tenants, and aims to curtail the use of exploitative buyout agreements.
“This legislative package seeks to prevent tenant displacement by giving them valuable tools to stay in their homes and in their communities. It penalizes abusive landlords and all of those who harass tenants and try to force them out of their homes,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. According to Johnson, Mayor Bill de Blasio has signaled he will sign all the bills, despite initial concern over the range of new oversight and enforcement activities they would require. In addition, Johnson has stated that he intends to add resources to the affected agencies in the city budget, due by July 1.
Overview of 17 Bills
Here’s a rundown on each of the 17 tenant protection bills:
Disclosing buyout agreement information. Introduction 551, sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine, requires that, where owners of apartments enter into “buyout agreements” with their tenants, the owners must electronically submit certain information about the terms of the agreement to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) within 90 days of execution.
Disclosing buyout offer information. Introduction 59, sponsored by Council Member Robert E. Cornegy Jr., requires persons making buyout offers to make certain disclosures. This bill would also require HPD to report on median asking rents, disaggregated by community district and number of bedrooms.
Disclosing previous four years of rental history. Introduction 1274, sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine, requires owners of multiple dwellings to obtain the previous four years’ rent history from the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for each dwelling unit, if available, and provide such information to the current tenant of the dwelling unit.
“For too long, residents have been unaware of their legal rent as prescribed by the state, overpaying landlords hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year,” said Levine. “Requiring landlords to disclose a unit’s rent history would break down a significant barrier, making it easier to hold unscrupulous landlords accountable if a tenant’s rent goes up dramatically overnight. As the State Legislature debates an omnibus housing bill in Albany, I strongly urge them to consider including legislation that would increase the rental history disclosure requirement from four to ten years. I would immediately introduce a companion bill in the City Council to support such action.”
Providing copies of notices of violations. Introduction 1247, sponsored by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, requires owners of residential buildings to provide copies of any notice of violation issued against a property to the residents of that property. Additionally, the DOB must create a pamphlet or flyer explaining the adjudication process for such violations, to be distributed with the copies of notices of violations.
“Tenants are not typically aware when a notice of violation has been issued about their building or a specific unit in their building. Even when they are, they might not know how the adjudication process works, or how they can be involved in hearings. Intro 1247-A would require residential building owners to provide copies of any violation notice issued against a property to the residents of that property. If the violation affects all residents, a copy of the notice would have to be conspicuously posted in the lobby. If the violation affects an occupied unit, the owner would have to provide a copy of the notice to residents of each adjacent unit,” said Cabrera.
Requiring DOB and HPD to audit certifications of correction. Introduction 1279, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, requires the DOB and the HPD to audit certifications of correction filed in connection with immediately hazardous violations.
Expanding available data in the online property owner registry. Introduction 1242, sponsored by Council Member Diana Ayala, expands HPD’s online property owner registry by requiring the inclusion of DOB violations related to construction as harassment, including violations of work without a permit and work in violation of a stop work order. It also requires HPD to include rent overcharge information from the DHCR and incorporate that information into the registry, if available.
Denying building permits where building has excessive violations. Introduction 975, sponsored by Council Member Justin Brannan, requires the DOB to deny a building permit when a building of fewer than 35 units has an average of at least three open, immediately hazardous or major Housing Maintenance Code violations or immediately hazardous or major construction code violations per unit, or, when a building has 35 units or more, it has an average of at least two open, immediately hazardous or major Housing Maintenance Code violations or immediately hazardous or major construction code violations per unit.
Making unlawful statements in DOB submissions. Introduction 1171, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, requires the DOB and the Department of Finance (DOF) to share information in order to identify false statements regarding occupied and rent-regulated housing. Additionally, this bill requires the DOB to request information from the DCHR to identify false statements regarding occupied and rent-regulated housing and requires the DOB to conduct an audit of an owner’s whole portfolio of properties using information obtained from the DOF if the owner has been caught either failing to obtain a building permit or submitting false statements regarding occupied and rent-regulated housing on an application for a building permit. This bill also requires DOB to audit 25 percent of the buildings on HPD’s speculation watch list for their compliance with building permit requirements on an annual basis and requires DOB to audit the whole portfolio of owners who have an unusually high number of amended building permits that indicate a change in occupancy, a change in whether the building contains rent-regulated units, or a change that would require the owner to submit an application for a new permit to the department.
When the DOB finds that an owner made a false statement, the bill also requires the DOB to: (a) send written notice to the City Council, the Department of Investigations, the DHCR, and the Tenant Protection Unit; (b) refer the matter to the relevant District Attorney and the Attorney General for potential criminal prosecution; and (c) report on the punitive actions it took in every case in which it found evidence of a falsified application for a building permit.
Requiring preliminary inspections of purportedly unoccupied buildings. Introduction 1277, sponsored by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, requires the DOB to perform preliminary inspections to verify the occupancy status of purportedly unoccupied buildings undergoing construction.
Denying permits for occupied buildings. Introduction 1275, sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers, would deny permits for one year for a building following a determination that a false statement about the occupancy status was made on a construction application for that building or for a building following a determination that work was conducted without a permit while such building was occupied.
Requiring owners and applicants seeking altered construction documents to identify occupied units. Introduction 1280, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, requires that construction documents for alterations contain a statement signed by the owner and applicant identifying any occupied units in the building. The bill also establishes specific civil and criminal penalties for submitting false information to obtain a building permit of no less than $10,000 for the first offense, and no less than $25,000 for each subsequent offense.
Permitting sanctions for submitting incorrect professionally certified applications for construction document approval. Introduction 977, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, permits the DOB to sanction registered design professionals who submit professionally certified applications for construction document approval within any 12-month period that contain errors that result in a stop work order. It also requires that the DOB maintain a database, in a nonproprietary machine-readable format that permits automatic processing, of registered design professionals who have been excluded, suspended, or otherwise sanctioned by the DOB.
Expanding sanctions for submitting professionally certified false building permit applications or plans. Introduction 1241, sponsored by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, expands penalties for violating the DOB professional certification program to apply to the offending professional’s supervisor as well as the professional personally.
Requiring submission of construction documents, applicant and owner statements, and tenant protection plans. Introduction 1107, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, shifts the responsibility of retaining a design professional to prepare a tenant protection plan from building owners to contractors. The bill requires statements by buildings owners and contractors regarding the occupancy of a building and the scope of work of a construction project. Finally, this bill creates the option to submit phased tenant protection plans to reflect the current stage of work.
Requiring heightened review of tenant protection plans. Introduction 1278, sponsored by Council Member Carlina Rivera, requires the DOB to approve tenant protection plans prior to construction and periodically inspect construction sites to ensure compliance with approved tenant protection plans.
Inspecting construction sites. Introduction 1257, sponsored by Council Member Robert E. Cornegy Jr., requires the DOB to issue a stop work order if an inspector is unable to gain access to a construction site and has reason to believe that work is being done in violation of the law.
Mandating audits of the records of process servers. Introduction 1258, sponsored by Council Member Robert E. Cornegy Jr., requires that the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) annually audit the records of at least 20 percent of licensed process servers who have served at least one summons, subpoena, notice, citation, or other process for a housing court proceeding. The bill would also require that process servers notify the DCA every six months if they have served process for a housing court proceeding. This bill would further require that the DCA post on its website, and notify process serving agencies, when a process server has been disciplined, or where the process server’s license has been suspended, revoked, or license renewal denied.