Stand for Tenant Safety (STS) Coalition Brings Boro Presidents, Council Members, and Tenants together to Discuss Package of Bills to Combat “Construction as Harassment”
250+ community members attended town halls in Manhattan and Brooklyn last month to raise awareness about landlords’ use of “construction as harassment.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 3, 2017
CONTACT: Rolando Guzman, 718-388-9190 x111, [email protected]
New York, NY – New York City council members sponsoring legislation to reform and strengthen the Department of Buildings described their initiatives to address issues raised by tenants who have been victims of brutal harassment from their landlords involving aggressive, dangerous, and frequently illegal construction in their apartment buildings.
On January 10, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was joined by 20 elected officials and tenants from across the borough at the Manhattan Municpal Building.
SOHO tenants recalled the horrors of landlords doing work with falsified construction permits, with some landlords claiming buildings were vacant or unregulated when there were, in fact, rent-regulated tenants still living in the building at the time of the construction.
Henry Dembrowski of Lower Manhattan said “Construction as Harassment is a poison in our city and we need to work together through legislation [to get rid of it].”
A tenant from the Toledano Tenant Coalition from the East Village named Holly Slayton highlighted the problem of uncollected Department of Building fines, saying “the Department of Buildings has a billion dollars in fines due to them.” Slayton strongly supports bills Int. 0930 and Int. 0931, sponsored by Council Member Kallos, which would make ECB fines lien collectable, meaning the city could foreclose on a building that had racked up too many unpaid violations.
Three weeks later, Brooklyn tenants, backed by the Brooklyn Borough President’s office, several council members, and state assembly members, hosted a related town hall.
Prime Stand for Tenant Safety bill sponsors Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal spoke to the necessity of their bills and the entire package.
“These [bad acting] landlords just don’t care. The cost of doing business is not even worth a life to them. Landlords are making money as they break the law and this legislation can change that,” said Council Member Reynoso on his three bills to create a watch list of contractors who do construction work without a permit and to increase fines for doing work without a permit or after receiving a stop work order.
Tenants from across the borough – from Greenpoint to South Brooklyn and everywhere in between – described the trauma of having their buildings demolished while they were still living inside. Phil Smrek is one such tenant. He spoke in favor of a strong Real Time Enforcement. Smrek described being passed between 311 and 911 operators over and over when he tried to make a complaint about construction workers entering his building at night with sledgehammers and without permits. Due to bureaucratic back-and-forth and red tape a Department of Buildings inspector did not come to the building until many days later when it was too late to stop the illegal and hazardous construction.
A Real Time Enforcement Unit in the Department of Buildings could have protected Smrek and his neighbors by conducting inspections for complaints about work being done without a permit within two hours of the receipt of the complaint, inspecting buildings doing significant amounts of construction within five days of the start of the construction work. The STS Package of bills includes one which would create a Real Time Enforcement Unit.
During the Brooklyn Town Hall, Council Member Mathieu Eugene promised to sign all twelve bills. To make sure this desperately needed legislation is passed this session, tenant across the city were urged to speak to their local representatives.