By Carol Yost
At long last, with a new Democratic majority in Albany, chances are better than ever to break the stranglehold the greedy landlords have held on our city. By hook AND by crook, saying they’re only trying to make an honest buck, they’ve managed to get laws that allow them to eliminate rent-regulated housing in our buildings, and harass widows, orphans, struggling young families, veterans, sick people and other persons of every description out of their homes so that they can jack up the rents. The number of rent-regulated homes in New York City has plummeted by 150,000 since the landlord-friendly laws were passed under then-Governor George Pataki, although one million remain. Meanwhile, landlords like to think they’ll find people who will pay their awful rent increases, and they often do because people say, “That’s New York City.”
A home can feel like part of your identity. It’s a part of you. Even some homeless people have corners or doorways they see as theirs. As a person who was nearly homeless at least twice since I came to New York City, I know the fear, the feeling of helplessness, the looking around at all your possessions, thinking, “Where on earth can I go?”
The New York City Council, being duly observant of landlord maneuvers, has crafted these 18 new bills to try to prevent landlord shenanigans. At www.citylimits.org, you’ll find a link for each bill so that you can track its progress.
Unfortunately, the City Council does not have the power to pass actual New York City rent laws. Only Albany can, and that means practices called vacancy decontrol, 20% vacancy bonuses, capital renovation increases and preferential rents will have to be taken up there, and the new Democratic control in Albany is eager to get going on it, though we are warned it will take dithering and time. We all hope they keep their promise to improve the stakes for tenants and get rid of those laws allowing large rent increases, because the landlords are fighting to keep things as they are. What the City Council is doing is trying to prevent harassment of tenants as a part of landlords’ plans to get all those vacancy-related rent increases that current State legislation allows them to get. These can be called anti-harassment tenant protections.
I can see why HPD and DOB may be upset, because a lot more work will be required of them for oversight. They’ll probably have to hire more people, and demand budget increases for it.
Intro 0030-2018: Landlords Fund Temporary Housing
A property owner would have to deposit money in an escrow account (with HPD as escrowee) equal to 10% of the rent for five years to fund temporary housing for displaced tenants before a vacate order has been issued. Sometimes tenants have been forced to vacate due to deteriorating conditions caused by landlord neglect, as a way to get the tenants out.
Intro 0059-2018: Understanding the Impact of Buyouts
HPD would be required to report median market rate rents by community district and number of bedrooms. Persons making buyout offers would also be required to report such median market rents and calculate the number of months of such rent such buyout offers would cover.
Buyouts can be used to get tenants out of rent-regulated apartments so that those rent regs can be knocked out by a judiciously obtained rent increase (with 20% vacancy increases, renovation costs added to the rent, etc.) before the next people can move into these apartments.
Under current laws and calculated rates, once the rent goes over $2,733.75, that’s it—no more rent stabilization for that apartment. It’s called vacancy decontrol. In 2015, my landlord’s son and heir stated clearly that he wanted to get me out so that he could increase the rent from $602.76, the rent I was paying then, to $3,000.00—almost five times as much. His lawyer called it “the going rate.”
Intro 0551-2018: Filing Buyout Agreements
Related to the previous one. Any owner offering a buyout would be required to file a report of such a buyout to HPD within 45 days of execution of that buyout. Failure to do so will result in a fine of $100/day for each day past the deadline. HPD would be required to file an annual report to the Mayor and Council on all buyout agreements.
Intro 0975-2018: Linking Permits to Violations
The Dept. of Buildings would be required to deny construction permits for buildings with a certain number of serious code violations, based on the number of units in a building.
Intro 0977-2018: Cracking Down on Application Errors
It would expand the number of sanctions that could be levied against people making incorrect applications for construction that resulted in stop work orders within the previous 12 months. DOB would be required to submit an annual report on registered design professionals who have been sanctioned in some way.
Intro 1107-2018: Making Contractors Responsible for Tenant Protection Plans
Contractors applying for permits to perform construction would have to file and submit for approval tenant protection plans. Previously, architects or engineers submitted such plans.
Intro 1171-2018: False Documentation Crackdown
First, the DOB would have to catch the false documentation. Then the DOB would have to audit the owner’s whole portfolio of buildings that failed to get permits or for which false documentation had been submitted, and to audit 25% of buildings on HPD’s speculation watch list, and the portfolios of owners with an unusually high number of amended permits.
Finally, DOB would be required to notify many specific City authorities of the false documentation for possible criminal prosecution. It would also have to report any punitive actions it took in response to false applications filed.
This arose from the brouhaha caused by the Kushner Companies’ many false documentations.
Intro 1241-2018:Expanding Penalties for False Certification
Penalties for false professional certification would be expanded to include the professional’s place of employment.
Intro 1242-2018: Adding DOB Violations to HPD’s Public Database
This would include different kinds of DOB construction violations designated as forms of harassment, committed by owners. Also, HPD would have to get from DHCR all records of rent overcharges.
Intro 1247-2018: Informing Tenants about Violations
DOB would have to inform tenants as well as property owners or managing agents. It would also have to inform tenants of how they can participate in the adjudication process, as well as confirming the date and time for the adjudication.
Intro 1257-2018: Access Required
A holder of a DOB permit must provide access to the agency in order to retain the permit.
Intro 1258-2018: Auditing Process Servers
The Commissioner of Consumer Affairs would have to audit 20% of process servers who have served in housing court. Litigants must also be informed of process servers or serving agencies who have failed their audits.
Intro 1274-2018: Rent Histories
Owners of rent-stabilized units must provide new tenants with the previous four years of rent history, obtained from DHCR.This is aimed to prevent overcharging, or the illegal removal of units from rent stabilization.
Intro 1275-2018: False Statements and Permits
Owners of buildings would be denied permits for one year if they falsely report the number of occupied units in a building. Property owners performing construction without a permit would be denied permits for one year from the date the violation is discovered. The only exception would be for emergency repair or to correct a violation.
Intro 1277-2018: Inspecting Allegedly Vacant Buildings
The DOB would have to inspect 15% of buildings where owners allege they are unoccupied when previously they had been occupied. This should help the City catch owners who give false information.
Intro 1278-2018: Strengthening Tenant Protection Plans
The DOB would have to review tenant protection plans to ensure they meet requirements for dust mitigation and debris removal—also requirements of Fire Codes, etc. Inspections would be conducted on 20% of sites within seven days of work commencing, and every 120 days thereafter—and also in response to complaints.
Intro 1279-2018: Checking that Violations Were Actually Corrected
The DOB and HPD must check 25% of certifications of corrections to make sure they were really done.
Intro 1280-2018: Transparency and Accuracy in Permits
Owners must correctly state the number of occupied and unoccupied units on construction permit applications, with penalties for false information.
Landlords have alleged that units were vacant when they were not, so that tenants were not protected from all the disturbance caused by construction. These same tenants were thereby pressured—harassed—into moving. Again, the object of the game for the bad landlord is to get rid of as many rent-stabilized tenants as possible, and then use the means allowed by current laws to jack up the rent and possibly even get the apartments off regulation.