The Daily Dirt: City Council takes aim at squatters

Bills seek to create task force, mandate quarterly reports

City Council Bill Take Aim at Squatters
Council member Kamillah Hanks, Alexa Avilés and Susan Zhuang (Getty, Facebook)

A pair of city bills were introduced to track squatters — and help them find new housing.

In case you missed it, the state budget changed a section of state law to explicitly exclude so-called squatters from the definition of tenant and to deny them protections afforded to renters. That buttressed another section of state law that already specifies that squatters do not have a landlord-tenant relationship.

On Thursday, two more squatter-related bills popped up, this time in the City Council. One would create a task force that would, among other things, facilitate removal of squatters and identify abandoned properties that are vulnerable to them.

The task force would include the police and fire departments, as well as Housing Preservation and Development, Homeless Services, Sanitation and any other relevant agencies. The bill says it would help squatters find legal housing, but does not specify how.

One challenge in addressing this issue is that accounts of squatters, while at times shocking, are anecdotal and do not indicate if the problem is widespread or rare. The second bill aims to provide a clearer picture of how often property owners find someone has moved in. The measure would require HPD, the NYPD and other agencies to collaborate on a quarterly report listing properties where people were squatting at any time during the preceding quarter.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Council member Susan Zhuang, believes the issue is common, and noted during Thursday’s meeting that her office received several squatter complaints that very day. It remains to be seen if the agencies tapped to track these cases will be able to do so comprehensively.

On Thursday, Council member Pierina Sanchez introduced a measure in response to the partial collapse of a Bronx building in December. Her bill would force the Department of Buildings to create a “risk-based inspection program” that assigns a “risk score” to assess the likelihood of structural failure in a given building (based on things like age, occupancy, complaints, exterior damage and maintenance records).

Within 10 days of receiving a violation for an unsafe condition, owners would need to submit a plan to correct the issues. They would have 30 days to fix immediately hazardous violations.

The Council also approved a measure that would require the New York City Housing Authority to submit an annual report on housing renovated through the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together Program, under which public housing is converted to Section 8 housing and is privately managed.

The reports must include basic information on the projects, including details on financing, subcontractors hired and outreach between the developer/property manager and tenants.

NYCHA says its website already has a PACT tracker aligned with the legislation’s requirements, as well as a capital projects tracker and a transparency page that includes myriad reports from all of its federal and local overseers.

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A thing we’ve learned: The Department of Housing Preservation and Development says it is changing its messaging to tenants in the wake of the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program and as owners grapple with rental arrears.

During the New York State Association for Affordable Housing conference Thursday, HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión said the agency is telling tenants: “Hey, you’ve got to pay your rent, this is a contract, you have a space to live. Government is not going to continue to bail you out because we’ve come out of the emergency.”

“That is a hard thing to message,” he said to the audience. “Government doesn’t like to do that, certainly politicians don’t like to do that. But that is part of our job, to be honest with people.”

Elsewhere in New York…

— Another measure introduced by the City Council on Thursday calls for the NYPD to hire a licensed social worker for each police precinct, Gothamist reports. If the measure passes, precincts could have a hard time doing that, given the nationwide shortage of social workers.

— Mayor Eric Adams caused a stir this week when he posited that migrants could be hired to address the city’s lifeguard shortage because many are “excellent swimmers.” He explained on Wednesday that he had visited migrant centers and was “blown away” by how many people raised their hands when he asked who could swim, the New York Times reports. “We have these capable people who know how to swim — from West Africa, from Ecuador, from South and Central America, from Mexico — and we have a shortage of lifeguards,” Adams told the City’s Katie Honan. “If we start planning out now, we could be prepared next year.”

— A pizza box recycling bin is being piloted in Central Park as part of the city’s effort to curb the rat population, NBC New York reports. The bin is near the Great Lawn, a magnet for pizza-picnics on warm days. Spokesperson Katy Brady said the Central Park Conservancy collects more than 100 boxes from the areas on such days. Pizza boxes can be placed with paper recycling, even if grease-stained.

Closing Time

Residential: The priciest residential sale Thursday was $12.5 million for a 5,600-square-foot townhouse at 126 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights. Philip Hordijk of Leven Real Estate had the listing.

Commercial: The largest commercial sale of the day was $19.1 million for a 39-unit rental building at 210 West 10th Street in the West Village.

New to the Market: The highest price for a residential property hitting the market was $35 million for a 9,000-square-foot, three-unit townhouse at 40 East 73rd Street in Lenox Hill. Ian Slater and Michael Koeneke of Trove Team at Compass have the listing. 

Breaking Ground: The largest new building application filed was for an 11,600-square-foot, 10-unit apartment building at 265 Weirfield Street in Bushwick. Wu Chen of Infocus Design Planning filed the permit. — Matthew Elo