Council Passes Bill Allowing Tenants to Report Issues in Vacant Units
The bill’s supporters view it as a step toward quantifying the scale of warehousing.
The City Council recently voted 39 to 8 to approve Int. 195-B, which gives tenants a path to report to HPD Housing Maintenance Code violations in vacant units in their buildings. According to Councilmember Carlina Rivera, the bill’s sponsor, the legislation codifies “the requirement for landlords to keep unoccupied units in good repair” and creates “a reporting mechanism that allows the inspection of vacant units that are negatively impacting quality of life.”
The bill has been sent to the mayor’s desk for signature. This means Mayor Adams has 30 days to either sign the bill into law, veto the bill, or take no action. If he vetoes the bill, it will be sent back to the City Council, which can override the mayor’s veto with a two-thirds vote. If the mayor doesn’t sign or veto the bill within 30 days, it becomes law.
Reporting & Inspecting Process
The bill would require HPD to reach out to owners of buildings for which HPD has received complaints about conditions in unoccupied dwelling units that may be the cause of a hazardous or immediately hazardous condition in an occupied dwelling unit.
The owner would be required to schedule an HPD inspection of the vacant unit within 21 days. And HPD would conduct an inspection of the vacant unit, guided by an inspection checklist, and issue violations for hazardous or immediately hazardous conditions. The bill would also allow tenants of the building to apply for an order directing that HPD be given access to the premises when necessary to correct violating conditions.
Previously, HPD wasn’t required to inspect unoccupied units. With this new bill, a tenant could lodge a complaint via 311 for unsafe conditions in a vacant unit and HPD inspectors could issue possible violations for hazardous conditions. The agency would also be required to publish these violations on its website to provide more transparency.
If signed, this bill will go into effect 210 days after it becomes law.
Tracking Vacant Units
The bill’s supporters view tenant reports as a step toward quantifying the scale of warehousing, the alleged practice in which owners keep apartments vacant in anticipation of future rent increases. However, HPD, at a City Council hearing in June, presented data showing only about 2,500 empty rent-stabilized apartments were available for rent, had a legal rent below $1,000, were in need of repairs, and had been vacant for more than one year. In addition, the City Council has a pending bill that would require owners to register empty apartments and stores (Int. 352-A). This particular bill has not moved forward to a vote.