Council Holds Hearings on Construction-as-Harassment Bills

The City Council has now held hearings on all 12 bills in a package intended to stop landlords from using construction as a tactic to force tenants out. The bills, put forward by the Stand for Tenant Safety coalition, an alliance of more then 20 grass-roots tenant organizations and legal-service groups, were introduced in the fall of 2015, with 11 Councilmembers as lead sponsors.

“Construction as harassment continues to be a huge problem in our communities. We are saying that enough is enough and calling on the administration to implement reforms to the Department of Buildings that will help to end this practice,” Councilmember Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), cochair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, said in a statement April 19.

The Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee held a hearing April 19 on the last five bills in the package. They are Intro 0926, which would create a city task force on construction in occupied apartment buildings; Intro 0931, which would allow the city to put liens on properties with unpaid fines for building-code violations; Intro 0936, which would strengthen requirements for tenant protection plans before construction starts; Intro 0938, which would increase oversight of contractors who have done work without a permit; and Intro 0960, which creates a “safe construction bill of rights” for tenants.

Tenants from several organizations in the Stand for Tenant Safety coalition testified, including tenants from Met Council; Asian Americans for Equality and the Cooper Square Committee in Lower Manhattan; the St. Nick’s Alliance, Los Sures, and the Crown Heights Tenants Union in Brooklyn; and CASA in the Bronx. They told the committee about living with dangerous conditions, anti-harassment certificates being ignored, not having gas, and in one Chinatown building, going without running water. One Chinatown tenant broke down in tears while testifying. At one point, committee chair Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) asked a representative from Department of Buildings to return to the stand to answer questions about why current procedures are not being followed. 

“Unfortunately, for far too many New Yorkers, the problem of tenant harassment and displacement by landlords is only getting worse,” Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn) said in the April 19 statement. 

The Council is now negotiating over legal issues affecting the bills with its legislative counsel. The Stand for Tenant Safety coalition is working with the Progressive Caucus and other Councilmembers to have a vote on the 12 bills in June, after the negotiations on the city budget are over.

“Far too many try to bypass, bend, and break the law in pursuit of profit,” Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) said. “We cannot and will not allow unscrupulous landlords to take advantage of our community. This package of bills goes to lengths to provide tenants the protections they deserve.”