Bills Aim to Protect Renters During Construction Work
New York Times, By Mireya Navarro, SEPT. 29, 2015
New York City Council members will introduce a package of bills on
Wednesday intended to prevent landlords from pressuring tenants to move
out by making their apartments unlivable through construction work.
The proposed legislation, a total of a dozen bills, follows accounts of
residents’ enduring latenight noise, harmful levels of dust and damage to
their apartments, which some of the tenants said were efforts to get them to
leave their rentstabilized apartments. Landlords are supposed to provide
tenantprotection plans when they do renovations in occupied buildings. But
in many cases, the landlords tell the city that their buildings are vacant, and
the city grants the construction permits without verifying the claims.
The bills seek to have the city’s Buildings Department play a more
aggressive role by responding to construction complaints faster and increasing
inspections to confirm landlords’ compliance with safety requirements.
“It’s about stepping up enforcement,” said Stephen Levin, one of 11
council members sponsoring the bills. “We’re losing regulated units every year
to decontrol and unscrupulous activities by landlords.”
Mr. Levin, a Democrat, is the lead sponsor of a bill that would create a
unit within the Buildings Department dedicated to responding to complaints
related to work without permits and to extensive renovations, which the bill
defines as work in more than 10 percent of a building. This “real time
enforcement unit,” Mr. Levin said, would respond within two hours after a
complaint about unpermitted work, which would address the problem of
missed violations because inspectors show up after the work has stopped.
Two other bills target the practice of landlords falsely claiming their
buildings are unoccupied. The bills call for the Buildings Department to review
occupancy claims in certain cases, rather than rely on the word of owners or
owners’ agents, as it does now.
A coalition of tenant advocacy groups that lobbied for and helped draft the
legislation says construction inside buildings has increased in the past three to
five years in rapidly gentrifying areas like Crown Heights in Brooklyn and the
Lower East Side of Manhattan. While landlords try to maximize rents by
renovating vacant apartments and common areas, some landlords, tenant
groups contend, have another motive — to make life miserable for rent
stabilized tenants so their units can be cleared out and rented at higher rates.
“It’s a violent assault on the tenant — to have a ceiling collapse on you or
the walls shaking,” said Brandon Kielbasa, director of organizing for the group
Cooper Square Committee. “It’s really some of the worst psychologically and
physically threatening harassment we see.”
Tenant claims brought to Housing Court for all forms of harassment have
increased steadily — to about 800 last year — since a city law allowing tenants
to sue their landlords over harassment went into effect in 2008, city officials
Even when the Buildings Department discovers that a supposedly vacant
building is full of tenants, the department often does not penalize the landlord.
Department officials have said that construction work that tenants have
complained about is often found to be legitimate maintenance, not
But department officials said in a statement on Tuesday that they had
already increased enforcement and that they were part of a multi agency
tenant harassment task force formed this year to pursue criminal prosecution
in the worst cases.
“We look forward to discussing the Council’s proposals in the interest of
further protecting tenants and keeping our buildings safe,” the statement said.
Another bill would require the Buildings Department to inspect a building
within seven days after renovations start to ensure that landlords have
prepared and complied with tenant protection plans; complaints from tenants
regarding the work would lead to subsequent inspections. The safety plans
would also have to be posted in the lobbies and on each floor of affected
buildings, and on the department’s website.
Other bills would increase fines and violations for illegal construction
work and create a watch list of contractors with a history of working without
permits, so that they would be subject to more oversight.
Other council members sponsoring the bills are Margaret Chin, Rafael
Espinal, Daniel R. Garodnick, Corey Johnson, Ben J. Kallos, Mark Levine,
Carlos Menchaca, Rosie Mendez, Antonio Reynoso and Helen Rosenthal, all
A version of this article appears in print on September 30, 2015, on page A23 of the New York
edition with the headline: Bills Aim to Protect Renters During Construction Work .