Mayor de Blasio Signs 18 Bills Strengthening Legal Protections for Tenants

August 30, 2017

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio will today sign 18 pieces of legislation cracking down on tenant harassment. The new laws solidify New York City’s commitment to tenants against landlord harassment, including by making it easier for tenants to take abusive property owners to court, increasing penalties and enforcing against dangerous and illegal construction. Together, the bills will help keep families safe and help them stay in their homes and the neighborhoods they helped build.

“Tenant harassment is among the most malicious side effect of New York City’s economic boom. As we continue to work to protect tenants and to preserve and build affordable housing, we will not hesitate to crack down on abusive landlords. I thank all our partners who worked so hard to get these bills passed, from the Speaker and the entire City Council, to tenants and tenant advocates across this great City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We must make sure New Yorkers have the resources they need to stay in their homes and communities,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Tenants drawn into erroneous eviction proceedings, or facing other forms of harassment dealt out by unscrupulous landlords, deserve to have the full protections of the law behind them. It is for that reason that the City Council prioritized the development of legislation to empower tenants against harassment attempts, and is so proud to see those efforts signed into law today. Those seeking to displace longtime New Yorkers will face a much bigger challenge through this set of laws, and I thank Mayor de Blasio and my colleagues on the City Council for their dedicated work on this essential issue.”

Joined by City Council members who sponsored the legislation, other elected officials, the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition, including the Cooper Square Committee, St. Nick’s Alliance and the Urban Justice Center, the Mayor will sign 15 bills at a ceremony this afternoon in the Hamilton Senior Center on the Upper West Side. He will sign three bills at a Town Hall with Council Member Antonio Reynoso in Brooklyn tonight.

“DOB is a proud partner in the City’s Tenant Protection Task Force, through which we’ve conducted thousands of safety inspections over the last year. We look forward to continuing our work with our fellow agencies to crack down on construction-based tenant harassment,” Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler, PE, said.
 
“HPD is always looking to strengthen and expand the tools available to ensure New York City residents have the safe, quality housing and protections that they need and deserve,” said Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. “We are deeply committed to our fight against tenant harassment and will continue to work with our partners at the City Council to protect tenants’ rights.”

“This legislation furthers the City’s efforts in protecting tenants and improving housing safety,” said Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha.

“We are proud to be a part of the effort to protect New York City tenants from harassment and other unscrupulous practices,” said DSS Commissioner Steven Banks. “Mayor de Blasio recently signed into law legislation making New York City the first city in the country to ensure that all tenants facing eviction in housing court will have access to legal assistance, and establishing a program through the City’s Office of Civil Justice at the Human Resources Administration that will serve 400,000 New Yorkers when it is fully implemented in five years.  To ensure that tenants know their rights and have access to these protections, the City’s Public Engagement Unit and the Human Resources Administration will add these anti-harassment tools to their outreach in vulnerable communities. Helping people stay in their homes and preserving affordable housing are key parts of the fight against homelessness.”

"No New Yorker should have to endure harassment of any kind, especially at home. We are ready to bring these important protections to the doors of vulnerable New Yorkers and get them the help they deserve. The Public Engagement Unit knocks on doors across the city to make sure that all tenants know their rights and help individuals access legal assistance," said Public Engagement Unit Direct Regina Schwartz.

Also joining the Mayor at the Center, part of Hargrave House which is an affordable housing development for seniors with incomes of less than $50,000 a year, is Catalina Hidalgo, a mother of two young children who helped found the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition after she and her fellow Brooklyn tenants were subjected to severe harassment by their landlords, Joel and Aaron Israel. The abuse, which included demolition inside their homes and physical threats, was aimed at driving them out of their rent-regulated apartments.

While the Israel brothers pleaded guilty to unlawful eviction and other crimes in Brooklyn Supreme Court last fall, Hidalgo and her twin children returned to their apartment and the City won a case to have management of the building taken over by a court-appointed administrator who made repairs.

“My main reason for fighting this battle was because of my twins. I didn’t want to be homeless; I didn’t want to have to put them through the system. I had to stand up to my landlord and protect my rights as a tenant – and I won. I am extremely proud of the role we played in creating these new laws, and I am forever grateful for the backing we received from our family, friends, our community and most importantly the City. Property owners have to understand they cannot get away with harassing us tenants and destroying our homes and if they do, they now face bigger fines and can risk losing their properties,” said tenant Catalina Hidalgo, 36.

Tenants’ rights organizations from across the City, including members of the Stand for Tenant Safety coalition, have long advocated for passage of legislation to increase protections against tenant harassment.

Besides these bills, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation earlier this month that provides all low-income tenants facing eviction with free legal representation in Housing Court. The program, which is overseen by the Civil Justice Coordinator at the Human Resources Administration, will serve 400,000 tenants when it is fully implemented in five years. To ensure that tenants know their rights and have access to these protections, the City’s Public Engagement Unit and the Human Resources Administration will add these anti-harassment tools to their outreach in vulnerable communities.

Tenants are encouraged to call 311 for free legal assistance if they are experiencing harassment or facing eviction.

The bills include are Intro. 347-B, which allows Housing Court judges to award tenants damages; Intro. 1133 requires the Department of Buildings to withhold permits when property owners owe more than $25,000 in unpaid violations; Intro. 1530 partially shifts the harassment burden of proof to the landlord; Intro. 1548 expands the definition of harassment, to include repeated contact at unusual hours; Intro. 1549 allows tenants to sue landlords for harassment based on repeated disruption of essential services and landlord-initiated lawsuits against other tenants for frivolous reason in the same building; Intro. 1556 increases minimum civil penalties for tenant harassment.

A second package of bills Intro. 918-A, 924-A, 926-A, 930-A, 931-B, 936-A, 938-A, 939-A, 940-A, 944-A, 1523-A, and 960-A, targets construction as tenant harassment and is the result of organizing work done by the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition. Three of these bills, 938, 939, and 940, will be signed at the Town Hall with Council Member Reynoso this evening.

“Until Albany returns power over the rent laws to the city, we must continue to find every way we can to guarantee tenants’ safety and security in their buildings and crack down on harassment, abuse, and neglect from landlords," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’m glad my colleagues in the Council are leaving no stone unturned in their search for ways city government can make tenants' lives easier.”

“Time and again, we have heard of unscrupulous landlords forcing working families, seniors and other vulnerable New Yorkers from their homes through abusive, illegal tactics. The measures being enacted today will send a clear message to dishonest property owners that tenant harassment will not be tolerated.  We must work at all levels of government to combat these tactics, which is why, in Congress, I have authored the Landlord Accountability Act, a measure to institute stiff penalties in these cases. I will continue working with the Mayor and HPD to ensure tenants’ rights are respected and enforced,” said U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez.

“I’m proud to sponsor legislation that is a part of this important package,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings and sponsor of Intro. 1556-A. “My bill, Intro 1556 sends a message to unscrupulous landlords that the City is serious about protecting tenants and their rights. As the pace of construction continues to increase and creates opportunities for unscrupulous owners to take advantage and harass New Yorkers, we must also change how we handle these situations to thwart their bad practices. I’m also pleased to have helped shepherd both packages through the committee. Coupled with the other bills, they will go a long way in curbing these illegal practices and making sure those in violation of the City’s law will be penalized accordingly.”

“These 18 bills represent a sweeping reform to the Department of Buildings, and will have a lasting impact on the lives of tenants across our city. Many of the bills, such as my legislation creating an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the DOB, are aimed specifically at ending construction as a form of harassment, where a landlord uses unsafe and disruptive construction to force tenants from their homes. Construction as Harassment is a major issue in my district and throughout New York City. Thank you so much to the Mayor and the Speaker for their support of tenants’ rights. And congratulations to the entire Stand for Tenant Safety coalition and to all my colleagues on the Council who fought long and hard for this cause,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, sponsor of Intro. 347-B and 1523-A.

“The Stand for Tenant Safety legislative package aims to correct the behavior of the worst landlords, who will now face the threat of foreclosure if they neglect to make necessary repairs,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, sponsor of Intro. 930-A and 931-B. “For too long some landlords and building owners have neither fixed recurring problems on their properties nor paid the fines that go along with those violations, putting tenants in unsafe conditions sometimes for years on end. Introductions 930 and 931 are written to prevent just that. Thank you to Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito for your support and attention to the Stand for Tenant Safety legislative package and thank you to Mayor de Blasio for his support to this legislation and signing it into law.”

“Tenants have the right to live without fear of being preyed upon in their own home,” said Council Member Mark Levine, sponsor of Intro. 936-A and 1548-A. “No New Yorker should be forced to live with that fear. The legislation the Mayor is signing today, including two of my own bills on tenant harassment and safety, will take the critical steps towards protecting countless vulnerable tenants from abusive landlords.”

“New York City is owed a significant amount of money—almost $900 million—in unpaid Department of Buildings fines. A large portion of these fines are owed by Bad Actors—owners and developers that persistently disobey our City’s laws and building codes,” said Council Member James Vacca, sponsor of Intro. 1133-A. “Right now, DOB essentially treats all permit-seekers the same, regardless of the applicant’s history. My legislation changes this. It allows the City to take past actions into account, and deny new building, demolition, place of assembly or major alteration permits to those with outstanding debts in excess of $25,000. This measure ensures owners and developers are more concerned with building compliance in the first place, and that when there are large fines, the City gets the money it’s owed or property owners don’t get the permits they want.”

“The Stand for Tenant Safety legislation that Mayor de Blasio will sign today represents a true collaboration between organizers, who are dealing with these issues on the ground every day in our communities, and the City Council. Too many of my constituents, and low-income tenants all over the city, have experienced harassment by their landlords in an attempt to displace them from their homes, with the use of construction in occupied buildings as a common tactic. These bills will give the City the tools it needs to crack down on this practice and to help stabilize our neighborhoods and protect tenants,” said Council Member Reynoso, sponsor of Intro 938-A, 939-A and 940-A.

“For far too long, predatory landlords have relied on illegal construction to harass tenants and drive them out of their homes. As part of the historic Stand for Tenant Safety package, Intro 918 creates necessary protections for these tenants – including low-income residents, working families, and seniors on fixed incomes – to fight back against this unscrupulous form of harassment,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin, sponsor of Intro 918-A. “By increasing DOB inspections for construction applications at buildings where more than 25% of units are occupied and where landlords have been guilty of tenant harassment, this bill helps tenants fight against harassment, construction damage, and displacement before they even start. Thanks to my bill co-sponsor Council Member Menchaca, and the members of the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition, including the Cooper Square Committee and the Stop Croman Coalition, for their partnership on this bill.”

“No longer will building owners be able to exploit DOB procedures to harass or evict tenants,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, sponsor of Intro. 924. “Unscrupulous building owners have notoriously used vacate orders as a tool to evict tenants from their lawful apartments. However, now DOB will be required to set a date by which building owners must correct the violations pertaining to the vacate order. This crucial measure will ensure landlords are held accountable for their actions and deliver timely repairs. Thank you to Mayor de Blasio for signing this significant package of legislation, which will protect tenants and prevent displacement and congratulations to all who worked hard to make this a reality!”

“Tenant protection has been central to my work at the City Council since 2014. I’m proud to have sponsored Stand for Tenant Safety (STS) legislation which will protect our residents from ‘eviction by construction,’ prevent withholding essential building services, and hold landlords accountable who repeatedly harass tenants. The residents I represent of Sunset Park and Red Hook will benefit from STS legislation as it addresses the most harmful causes of displacement they experience every day. I thank Mayor de Blasio for signing the STS legislation into law, and for his advocacy in providing legal help to tenants in housing court. I thank my colleagues at the Council and our City's strong housing and tenants’ rights advocates.  Now we must work collaboratively to inform tenants in communities across the City of New York of their new rights and empower them to use these new protections they have won,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, sponsor of Intro. 1549-A.

“Construction harassment is a lesser known, but deeply troubling form of harassment,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick, sponsor of Intro 926-A. “We are determined to deliver effective and consistent strategies to help combat this practice.”

“For far too long some of the city’s worst property owners have used devious, despicable tactics, as well as construction renovations to harass and intimidate tenants. Tenants living in buildings that are undergoing substantial construction usually do not know where to turn. Therefore, the passage of the “Safe Construction Bill of Rights” legislation would require landlords to provide tenants prior notice of significant construction projects and periodic updates about the status of such construction projects. I believe this is common sense legislation and its passage will demonstrate that New York City will ensure that construction is safe with tenants in place and that tenants will be informed. The overall impact of this legislative package is that New York City will be the best and safest place to live. I am proud that Mayor Bill de Blasio will be signing this package into law,” said Council Member Rosie Mendez, sponsor of Intro. 960-A.

“Tenants have fought hard for these laws and construction-as-harassment continues to be one of the most violent and psychologically tormenting forms of tenant harassment they face,” said Brandon Kielbasa, Director of Organizing and Policy at the Cooper Square Committee. “Tenants facing this form of harassment have ceiling collapsing on them, staircase removed in the buildings with no warning, and essential services, like heat, hot water, and electricity, shut off constantly. They routinely face health and safety hazards as toxic dust and debris invade their living spaces. The eleven Stand for Tenant Safety bills being signed into law today are game changers. This package of legislation, plus the one pending bill, which will create a Real Time Enforcement unit within the Dept. of Buildings, are a comprehensive overhaul and will provide tenants the protections they need.”

“For the past 40 years, St. Nicks Alliance has been assisting residents struggling to stay in their homes when unscrupulous landlords attempt to displace them in illegal fashion. This legislation gives local residents and St. Nicks Alliance stronger tools to combat landlords who try to create unlivable housing conditions and force lawful residents out of their community through construction as harassment. We commend the City Council and the Mayor for responding to the neighborhood needs, and most of all the resident leaders and advocates who demonstrated the urgency to pass this legislation,” said Frank Lang, Director of Housing St Nicks Alliance.

“We are pleased that the City has passed this legislative package to prevent construction as harassment. For too long, tenants have suffered at the hands of unscrupulous landlords who have no regard for their health or safety. With these new laws, tenants have new tools to hold their landlords accountable for illegal conduct,” said Jane Li, Staff Attorney, Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.


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