City Council Tenant Advocate Bill Met with Resistance

May 4, 2017
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The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings recently heard more than a dozen bills that would enhance tenant protections and combat abuses by owners. Among those proposals was one that would create a new ombudsman within the Department of Buildings whose responsibility would be to prioritize the welfare of tenants when property owners and builders apply for construction permits.

The bill would create an Office of the Tenant Advocate, charged with approving and monitoring tenant protection and site safety plans submitted to the Department of Buildings for construction work on occupied multiple dwellings.

The OTA would receive and redress complaints from tenants and would be required to publish quarterly reports on its work, including data on the number of complaints received, time taken to respond to complaints, and the number of tenant protection and site safety plans reviewed.

The bill has received pushback from the de Blasio administration as well as the real estate industry, both of which argue that the OTA would be redundant. The Real Estate Board of New York, the trade association that represents more than 16,000 members, including developers, property owners, managers, and brokers, filed a legislative memo with the City Council committee, stating its outright opposition to the OTA bill and generally to the larger package of proposals.

“The creation of the Office of the Tenant Advocate within DOB might be a worthy endeavor if the Office is devoted not only to protecting the interests of the tenant during construction, but also to assisting tenants with their responsibilities during such times,” says REBNY’s memo. It goes on to argue, similar to the administration’s stance on the bill, that other units within the DOB already cover the office’s proposed duties. They also insist that the bill should drop any references to site safety plans, which are “technical documents requiring high-level expertise and developed to safeguard the general public and workers on-site, not specifically tenants.”

The broader package of bills addresses a number of issues, with proposals including oversight of contractors that work without a permit; added requirements for information in tenant protection plans; a safe construction bill of rights for tenants; a rebuttable presumption of harassment for certain landlord actions; increased civil penalties for harassment and enhanced definitions of acts that constitute harassment; among others.