City Council approves package of 17 bills to strengthen tenant protections

One piece of 17-bill package requires disclosure of buyout details
By Kathryn Brenzel | May 08, 2019 04:30PM

Speaker of the New York City Council Corey Johnson (Credit: Getty Images and iStock)

Speaker of the New York City Council Corey Johnson (Credit: Getty Images and iStock)

The New York City Council on Wednesday approved a package of tenant protection bills, including one that requires landlords to make more disclosures when offering buyouts.

The 17-bill package ramps up reporting requirements for landlords of rent-stabilized buildings and calls on city agencies to make such information available to tenants.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said during Wednesday’s meeting that the package of bills was inspired, in part, by a series of stories in the New York Times last year that documented the tactics some landlords have used to deregulate rent-stabilized apartments, including using construction as a means of pushing tenants out.

He noted that he’d met with state officials in Albany on Tuesday to discuss rent reforms being considered by the state’s legislature, including the elimination of vacancy decontrol and Major Capital Improvements. He said he hopes the council’s legislation can ultimately work in tandem with Albany’s reforms.

One of the bills approved Wednesday requires rent-stabilized owners to submit information on buyouts offered to tenants to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Within 90 days of making the offer, owners must give HPD a rundown of the amount of money offered, the name of the tenants and the address of the building.

Another measure requires landlords to make clear to tenants that if they take a buyout, they won’t necessarily be able to find another apartment in the same neighborhood at the same price point.

Many of the bills also require heavier enforcement by HPD and the Department of Buildings. One measure requires the DOB to inspect buildings undergoing construction to verify that the properties are unoccupied. A few of the bills also targeted building owners who make false statements on permit applications to the department of buildings. One measure calls for penalties of $10,000 for the first offense, and no less than $25,000 for each subsequent false statement. Another requires DOB to identify cases where landlords have failed to identify on permit applications that their buildings contain rent-regulated units and to audit an owner’s entire portfolio when such misrepresentations are found. Last year, the Associate Press reported that this was an issue at Kushner Companies’ properties, and an analysis by The Real Deal showed that the practice was commonplace.

During a hearing on the proposed legislation in November, a representative from the Real Estate Board of New York said the organization broadly supported the city’s efforts to root out bad actors.

But he said REBNY had some concerns over a few of the bills, such as the one requiring DOB to confirm that buildings under construction are unoccupied.

“We do have concerns regarding the delays and may be issued to projects who are being caught up in an across-the-board audit process or the level of fines for what may be a genuine mistake,” REBNY vice president Reggie Thomas testified.

Under another bill, owners of multifamily homes must provide tenants with four years’ worth of rent history for their apartments. Currently, tenants must seek this information from the state housing regulator on their own. Landlords can increase rents in regulated units in a number of ways, such as renovating their buildings or vacating an apartment. The lack of transparency around how these increases are achieved, however, has led to criticism of state programs and accusations of abuse.