Council Targets Tenant Harassment Yet Again
The out-of-control, rabidly pro-tenant City Council is at it again. On August 9th, the Council passed a package of legislation that proves once again that apartment building owners have reason to be concerned about the future of their investments.
Altogether, the Council passed a package of 18 pro-tenant bills which have been forwarded to the Mayor for his signature. A significant number of the bills relate to harassment, adding to the 14 State and City laws which already address this heavily-legislated subject, and compliance with various Buildings Department requirements relating to permits, tenant safety plans and payment of penalties.
The following are some of the more notable and egregious examples of the Council’s actions:
• Intro. 1530-A: Amends the City’s Housing Maintenance Code to provide that tenant allegations of harassment by an owner “are presumptive evidence that such owner intended to harass such person….” This new law will make it much more difficult for owners to defend themselves against claims of harassment made by tenants in Housing Court proceedings. For example, if a tenant rejects a buyout offer by an owner and the owner does not wait the required six months before approaching the tenant again, the new law will presume that the owner engaged in harassment. Instead of the tenant needing to prove that the owner intended to harass the tenant, the owner will have the burden of proving that he did not intend to harass.
• Intro. 1548-A: Amends the definition of harassment to include repeatedly contacting or visiting a tenant on Saturdays, Sundays, legal holidays, or at times other than the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
• Intro. 1549-A: Amends the definition of harassment to include commencing a baseless or frivolous court proceeding against a person lawfully entitled to occupancy if repeated baseless or frivolous court proceedings have been commenced against other persons lawfully entitled to occupancy in the building.
• Intro. 1556-A: Amends the City’s harassment law to increase the minimum civil penalties from $1,000 to $2,000 (the maximum remains $10,000) and from $2,000 to $4,000 (the maximum remains $10,000) for harassment findings which recur within a five-year period.
• Intro. 347-B: Amends the Housing Maintenance Code to authorize the Housing Court to award compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees, as well as punitive damages, to tenants who commence harassment proceedings.
• Intro. 931-B: Amends the Administrative Code to establish that tax lien foreclosures by the City are applicable to (1) buildings with 20 or more apartments where the total value of ECB judgments for Building Code violations against such building is $60,000 or more, or (2) buildings with 6-19 apartments where the total value of ECB judgments for Building Code violations against such building is $30,000 or more.
• Intro. 939-A: Amends the Administrative Code to increase the penalties for work done without a permit. Previously, the law set the amount at 14 times the cost of the permit; the penalty is now set at 21 times the cost of the permit.
• Intro. 940-A: Amends the Administrative Code to increase the penalties for violations of stop-work orders. The new penalties are $6,000 for the initial violation and $12,000 for every recurring violation.
• Intro. 1133-A: Amends the Administrative Code to provide that the commissioner of the Department of Buildings (DOB) shall not issue various categories of permits if $25,000 or more “is owed to the city with respect to such property or if the owners of such property owe, in aggregate, $25,000 or more in covered arrears to the city.” These amounts include unpaid fines, civil penalties or judgments entered by a court or the environmental control board and paid and past due fees or other charges imposed by the commissioner of the Buildings Department. This bill does provide for certain exceptions, such as if a payment agreement is in place with the City Department of Finance (DOF), if the permit is necessary to correct violations of law, or if the permit is necessary to protect public health and safety.
• Intro. 1523-A: Amends the Administrative Code to create an office of tenant advocate within DOB. The tenant advocate will have various duties and responsibilities, including monitoring tenant protection plans, establishing a system for receiving comments, questions and complaints regarding tenant protection plans, monitoring sites with tenant protection plans to ensure compliance and recommending that the Buildings commissioner issue stop-work orders in cases where there are violations of tenant protection plans.
We will keep you apprised of future developments with these bills and how they will be implemented by the various City agencies once they are signed into law by Mayor de Blasio.