Department of Buildings and Department of Finance get a report card on tenant safety

Department of Buildings and Department of Finance get a report card on tenant safety

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 13, 2019
Contact: Loretta Kane (917-410-7242 or loretta@caminopr.com)

Department of Buildings and Department of Finance get a report card on tenant safety

City makes limited progress on implementation of 12 tenant safety laws

NEW YORK — Today, the Stand for Tenant Safety coalition (STS) issued a report card on 12 tenant safety measures signed into law by Mayor de Blasio. According to the report, the City’s performance is lackluster, with the coalition issuing a “D” or “F” for poor implementation of a third of the laws. With only two “B” and two “A” ratings — the balance were “C” or “D” grades. (View the report card here.)

STS demands full implementation of the Stand for Tenant Safety legislation. To protect tenants, the City must ensure that the DOB has adequate funding to fulfill the mandate of the laws and provide resources to the Office of the Tenant Advocate. STS is also requesting that the Committee on Housing and Buildings conduct oversight hearings to ensure accountability and transparency.

“Although the City of New York has made significant steps to protect tenants against harassment, there is an urgency to fully implement the Stand for Tenant Safety legislation and protect tenants against aggressive, disruptive and unsafe construction in their rent-regulated buildings,” stated Rolando Guzman, deputy director, Community Preservation, St. Nicks Alliance.

On October 16, 2017, Mayor de Blasio signed the final of 12 pieces of legislation into law to protect tenants from construction as harassment. The mayor was flanked by tenants and advocates from across New York City to celebrate a victory that was over four years in the making.

With the twelfth and final bill of the Stand for Tenant Safety legislation finally signed, tenants were expecting the many new measures would protect them from greedy and criminal landlords. Today, tenants gathered to protest slow and fumbled implementation of those laws.

“We celebrated when these laws were passed because we expected the City to put the full weight of this administration behind enforcement of tenant protections,” said Gregoria Fernandez, a tenant from 272 Stagg Street in Brooklyn. “Today, we’re protesting because the City is dragging its feet and failing tenants.”

The City got the lowest grades for failing to begin implementation of tax lien measures by the Department of Finance. A “D” was issued for failing to fully implement “Safe Construction Bill of Rights” requirement under Local Law No. 159. The Department of Buildings has told advocates that it issues warnings to landlords doing construction without a “Bill of Rights” and only places a violation if the warnings are unheeded. The warning-first process allows the landlords to get away with illegal behavior. Additionally, the 311 complaint process that triggers an inspection is flawed.

“Right now, complaining to the Department of Buildings (DOB) is a waste of everyone's time. If you show up to the DOB office to speak to them or follow up on a complaint they just tell you to call 311. Calls to 311 end up back at the DOB and the circle of frustration starts all over again,” said an anonymous tenant. (The tenant asked that their name be kept confidential for fear of retaliation since they are still seeking DOB assistance.) “When you ask DOB employees specific questions regarding a complaint or the law no one seems to know anything. Meanwhile the landlord keeps breaking the law.”

The Department of Buildings also got a mediocre grade (“C”) for the slow ramp-up of a Real Time Enforcement Unit. The Department reports that it is in the process of hiring and training additional staff to build the unit. Tenants also reported issues reaching the unit, which would allow them to get a speedy inspection when they are faced with immediately hazardous conditions.

DOB and the Department of Finance have not been fully transparent about the implementation of the laws, leaving advocates to wonder whether these measures are working. Advocates and council members are seeking more data from the agencies to evaluate the impact.

“We worked hand-in-hand with housing advocates to pass sweeping reforms to the Department of Buildings to hold predatory landlords accountable for tenant harassment, but that was only the first step,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “In order for us to know that these reforms are being fully implemented and changing the lives of families across this City, we need strong enforcement and real transparency. The law I co-sponsored, Local Law No. 149, mandates greater City oversight over self-certified applications for construction, especially in buildings owned by landlords with a history of harassment. We urge this Administration to do its part to make sure that more unscrupulous landlords like Jared Kushner, who lied on applications about the presence of rent-regulated tenants and drove them out through construction harassment, are held accountable."

Additionally, the administration has fallen short on implementing the Office of the Tenant Advocate, which was created in the summer of 2018, six months after the law’s effective date. Because of a lack of resources and staffing allocated by Department of Buildings, the office has been unable fulfill its mandate, at times. While this law was not part of the original package of tenant safety laws, the coalition evaluated it as part of the report card because it is an important safeguard for tenants.

“I applaud the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition for their steadfast commitment to improving the culture at the Department of Buildings,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6). “The STS legislation passed in 2017 is essential to protecting tenants impacted by construction, and this report card reflects the serious work that remains to be done. The Office of the Tenant Advocate is critical to the success of the STS package of bills. We are incredibly grateful for the work and commitment of OTA Director Byron Munoz, but the OTA needs and deserves a major increase in resources and staffing. Construction as harassment is widespread in New York City, and the DOB must take the lead in protecting tenants against predatory landlords.”

(View the report card here.)

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Stand for Tenant Safety (STS) is a citywide coalition of grassroots tenant organizations and legal services groups fighting to protect the lives and homes of New York City tenants, and to prevent landlords from using construction as harassment.

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