Council passes crackdown on landlords who lie about violations

“Worst Landlord Law” aims to shame owners who falsely certify fixing infractions

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (Getty)

Misbehaving property owners may soon find it harder to escape the city’s “Worst Landlords Watchlist,” thanks to the creation of another, even more ignominious list.

The City Council on Thursday approved the “Worst Landlord Law,” a measure that hikes financial penalties for various housing violations and creates a new watchlist for properties whose landlords self-certify that hazardous violations have been resolved, but lie about it.  

Starting in 2025, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will compile a list each year of up to 100 multifamily buildings whose owners certified that more than 20 violations were corrected in the previous year, at least four of them falsely. 

The list would be separate from the existing “Worst Landlords” list released each year by the public advocate’s office. It aims to stop landlords from falsely claiming that the violations that landed them on that list have been addressed.

“Our list is designed in part to shame the worst landlords in the city — but for owners who are shameless in their negligence, this law will hold them to account and deliver relief to countless tenants facing unlivable conditions,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.

An earlier version of the measure had additional criteria for inclusion on the list, including landlords involved in HPD’s alternative enforcement program and those who falsely certified violation corrections within the past five years. Landlord groups criticized that measure for, among other things, being “overly broad,” as the Rent Stabilization Association testified late last year.

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The measure’s latest iteration requires HPD to attempt at least two re-inspections before deeming violations corrected. It also allows HPD to exclude certain hazardous violations from counting toward inclusion on the list if a landlord has made attempts to correct them. The earlier bill would have mandated a stricter re-inspection regimen.

The measure also increases various penalties, though not as much as that initial bill. The law calls for up to $1,000 for each violation falsely certified as resolved, in addition to daily fines per violation.

The bill is part of a pair of measures pushed by Williams, the second of which would require HPD to respond more quickly to hazardous and immediately hazardous complaints. That one has not yet made it to a vote. 

On Thursday, the Council approved a separate measure that bars landlords and businesses from discriminating against individuals based on their weight or height. It also passed a bill that would require HPD to monitor buildings with heat complaints and ramp up inspections at those properties.

Separately, Council member Sandy Nurse introduced several bills intended to address illegal evictions. Among them is a measure to increase penalties for landlords who improperly evict tenants.

However, The City reported that the problem is not a lack of penalties on the books but rather a lack of enforcement. “Landlords who evict tenants by harassment or changing the locks can be arrested, issued a summons, and go to jail for up to a year,” the publication noted.

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