A September 30th rally on the steps of City Hall called attention to a new report released by the Stand for Tenant Safety coalition. 150 rent stabilized tenants were surveyed and reported aggressive practices that used construction to intimidate rent regulated tenants to abandon their homes. The Stand for Tenant Safety (STS) is a coalition of community-based organizations, legal service agencies, and tenant advocates who are working to document instances of “construction as harassment” and protect tenants.
This report’s release is concurrent with the introduction of a legislative package of 12 City Council bills that aim to reform the Department of Buildings, the agency tasked with issuing permits to developers and responding to tenants who report violations. Council Members Margaret Chin, Rafael Espinal, Daniel Garodnick, Corey Johnson, Ben Kallos, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, Rosie Mendez, Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso, and Helen Rosenthal, are among the bill’s supporters.
The report’s findings on the extent of harassment and negligence are disturbing. Here are just two examples:
- It took an average of 46 days for the Department of Buildings (DOB) to respond to 311 calls in the buildings surveyed, with 926 days clocking in as the longest response time for a complaint
- Nearly three quarters of tenants reported that construction was a threat to their health and safety, with 87% citing excessive dust in their buildings and 73% citing construction debris in the hallway
The 12 bill legislative package that was introduced on September 30th would address many of the issues discovered by the survey, and includes the following:
- Require DOB to inspect at risk buildings instead of allowing for self-certification.
- Create a list of contractors who have been found guilty of working without a permit and increase oversight of those bad actors.
- Require DOB oversight for tenant protection plans. At present, it is remarkably easy for landlords to claim a building is vacant or has no rent-regulated tenants, even when that is demonstrably false. The landlords claim this so they can avoid creating a Tenant Protection Plan. This bill would make landlords more accountable to the DOB.
- Create an inter-agency task force. The DOB, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must frequently collaborate to address tenant concerns. This task force would convene once a month, do annual reports and facilitate oversight hearings.
- Create a real time enforcement unit within DOB to respond to the most egregious violations or at risk buildings immediately.
“My bills in this package seek to raise fines for building owners who do construction work without a permit or in violation of a stop-work order, and to require additional oversight for contractors who do this illegal work. Fines need to be more than just the cost of doing business, and contractors need to face consequences for breaking the law. The DOB must do more to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords, and to protect tenants’ rights and quality-of-life,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso.