City expands program that bars construction over tenant harassment

Through 2026, landlords seeking to renovate to some buildings will need to prove tenants were not harassed

New York /
Oct.October 21, 2021 05:11 PM

From left: Brad Lander, Member of New York City Council and Jay Martin, Executive Director, Community Housing Improvement Program (Getty Images, iStock)

For another five years, some building owners will need to prove their tenants were not harassed before renovating or demolishing their properties.

The City Council on Thursday voted to expand a pilot program that requires certain residential property owners to secure a certificate of no harassment (CONH) from the city in order to move forward with apartment alterations and other types of construction work.

Initially approved in 2018, the pilot was slated to expire this month. The Council’s vote extended the program through Sept. 27, 2026 and widened it to include distressed buildings citywide.

Since the pilot’s launch, the state’s rent stabilization law has undergone extensive changes, including reforms aimed at eliminating incentives for landlords to drive tenants out in order to free apartments from regulation. Jay Martin, executive director of landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program, noted that the rent law already diminishes landlords’ ability to raise rents on stabilized apartments after major building and unit renovations.

“There is no business model that currently exists where this bill would prevent harassment of tenants,” he said. “I have not seen any proof whatsoever that this is even necessary.”

He called the city’s method for determining whether a building is in distress an “amorphous vague measurement system,” and voiced concern that given the city’s limited ability to survey buildings subject to these requirements, the task would fall to tenant advocates to determine whether harassment occurred.

During a September hearing, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development acknowledged that “additional data is necessary to fully evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Pilot and to ensure that it is structured in a way that meets its intended purpose.” The agency, however, did recommend an extension of the pilot for at least two years, citing changes to the rent law and the pandemic’s likely role in delaying building maintenance.

Prior to the pilot’s launch, only single-room occupancy buildings and those located within special-purpose zoning districts were subject to certificate of no harassment requirements. The pilot applied the requirements to distressed buildings across 11 city districts, as well as properties where a court or the state’s housing regulator had ruled that harassment occurred within the past five years and buildings that took part in a program for properties with extensive maintenance code violations for more than four months.

The bill approved Thursday expands the CONH program to apply to buildings where a court has appointed a 7A administrator to collect rents and provide tenants services — a program designed for buildings with “conditions that are dangerous to the tenants’ life, health and safety.” The latest version of the measure, however, excludes language that would have subjected buildings on the city’s speculation watch list, as well as buildings where any aspect of a tenant protection plan was violated.

Buildings subject to the CONH program are placed on a public list for five years. As of August, more than 1,000 properties were on the list. Real estate professionals have argued that being on the list scares away lenders and could result in apartments sitting vacant as owners wait for the ability to move forward with maintenance work.

Under the extension bill, sponsored by Council member Brad Lander, properties that are denied a certificate of no harassment are not only barred from performing construction work but must also pay $5,000 per apartment to tenants who were harassed.

“This new aspect of the Program would force landlords to put more thought into the risks of harassing tenants and affect their risk-assessment when launching harassment campaigns,” said Rachel Nager, an attorney with Communities Resist, part of a tenant advocacy coalition that pushed for the pilot’s expansion.

On Thursday, the City Council also voted in favor of a measure aimed at curbing deed theft. The bill requires the Department of Finance to notify owners if a deed- or mortgage-related document has been filed for their property. The notification will also include information for property owners on what action to take if the documents are fraudulent.





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