Landlords face hard deadline on court-ordered building repairs
Legislation awaiting Cuomo’s signature would ban multiple extensions by judges
A state bill to tighten time limits on court-ordered repairs of apartment buildings is poised to be signed or vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The legislation would prevent landlords from getting more than one extension to conduct repairs ordered by a court. The lone extension would be for up to 60 days and require just cause. Courts currently often give more time for repairs, which Bronx Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz said allows landlords to drag them out indefinitely.
Although housing courts can appoint an administrator to carry out repairs for a negligent property owner, they sometimes allow landlords to retain control if they promise to carry out the repairs. The bill, if signed into law, would force property owners to fix their building within the court-imposed time limit, or risk losing control over the property.
The legislation was inspired by a 2002 tragedy in the Northwest Bronx, where a six-story apartment sat for years with unresolved problems.
Rather than appoint an administrator to correct violations at 3569 DeKalb Avenue, two housing judges gave the landlord several years to do so. Tenants complained of deplorable conditions including rodents, corrosion on gas headers, holes in the walls and hazardous electrical wiring, a City Limits investigation found.
A judge ordered the landlord to correct the most hazardous of the 387 violations within 30 days, but there was no penalty for not doing so. Fourteen months later a fire at the six-story building claimed the life of 8-year-old Jashawn Parker.
The bill, which passed in February, now awaits Cuomo’s approval. Typically, bills are only sent to the governor when he is ready to take action on them, and bills are often vetoed at the end of the year.
The legislation had regularly cruised through the state Assembly only to die in the Republican-controlled Senate, but Democrats captured the upper house in the 2018 election.
The context for the bill has changed greatly since 2002, especially last year when new limits on rent hikes to pay for building improvements were set by the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act. Dinowitz said his bill does not impose additional costs on landlords, but rather ensures they carry out court-ordered repairs.
Dinowitz, who visited 3569 Dekalb after the tragic fire, recalled that the building was in “horrific” condition, with a broken-in door and missing steps.
Landlord groups say small property owners can struggle to afford repairs, especially as rent collection wanes during the pandemic. But Dinowitz expressed little sympathy — especially for landlords with vast portfolios.
“I don’t want to see small landlords go under, but for the big landlords with thousands of buildings, and they are a significant portion of the city, I’m not under the impression there is a problem,” the Bronx Assembly member said. “They certainly can’t use Covid as an excuse for not making repairs that could be life-saving.”