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Anti-Owner Bills Receive Universal Criticism at December Hearing

Various Bills Likely to Stall in Their Committees

Burdensome, anti-owner legislation recently considered by the City Council will more than likely fail to advance after receiving backlash from industrywide professionals, RSA members and City agencies.

At the December 2nd hearing of the Council Committees on Housing and Buildings and Fire and Emergency Management, Council Members discussed various anti-owner bills (see page 1 of the December 2020 RSA Reporter), particularly Intro. 1146-B, which would require owners of residential buildings 40 feet tall or higher to install a system of automatic sprinklers in every apartment by December 31, 2029.

In addition to opposition from RSA, our members, and the entire rental housing industry, the proposed bill received criticism from the City Department of Buildings (DOB) and City Fire Department (FDNY), as well as Council Members and some tenant advocates. Because of the controversy surrounding the bill, several Council Members even removed their names from the bill, such as pro-tenant Council Member Margaret Chin and even the bill’s co-sponsor, Council Member Ben Kallos.

Most arguments made against the bill were universal. Aside from the onerous expenses that would be imposed on property owners, the retrofitting work would be much more expensive in residential buildings built before 1978, where any existing lead paint and asbestos would require additional work. Most smaller buildings would also need to acquire larger water tanks to accommodate the new sprinkler systems, which would then require stronger roofs in order to hold the weight of the water tanks and other necessary equipment. Furthermore, millions of tenants would need to temporarily vacate their apartments so that all required work could be performed.

It is extremely rare that anti-owner bills at the City Council receive universal criticism. Because of the various concerns, it is highly unlikely that Intro. 1146-B will progress any further, especially as it is currently written. Council Member Barry Grodenchik, the primary sponsor of the bill, said during the hearing that he understands the significant financial impact that this legislation would have. He believes that his bill should be paired with some form of funding for building owners, such as loans or tax credits, and has suggested that separate legislation be drafted in order to accomplish this result.
Although it should always be expected that RSA will fight against anti-owner bills such as this, the fact that dozens of RSA members either testified live during the hearing, or submitted written testimony, played a huge role in the potential defeat of this radical legislation. That is why we always notify our members about critical legislative hearings, so that Council Members can hear directly from the City’s property owners about how harmful proposed legislation could be. If you were unable to provide any form of testimony, we encourage you to contact your local Council Member and discuss with them the negative impact of this bill. If you are unsure who your Council Member is, visit https://www.mygovnyc.org/ and type in your address to locate them and their contact information.

It is important to note that also during the hearing, there were additional proposed bills that received backlash from RSA and the FDNY. These bills included Intros. 842, 1036, and 312. The proposed Intro. 842 would require owners of all new and existing residential buildings 40 feet or higher to install luminous egress path markings to outline any exit path and Intro. 1036 would require owners of all residential buildings 40 feet or higher to install directional exit signs indicating the path of egress travel when such path is not immediately visible, even if these buildings only require one exit or exit access. Both RSA and the FDNY argued the redundancy of these proposals given the requirements that building owners already have in the existing Fire Safety Notice.

Intro. 312, which would require all residential buildings with more than two units to install portable fire extinguishers in a common area on every floor with at least one occupied unit, was also criticized by both RSA and the FDNY. A compelling argument was made by the FDNY, who stated that during a fire, the priority of all tenants must be to close their doors and quickly exit the building, not to exit their apartments and locate the nearest fire extinguisher on their floor.

It is unclear how these three proposed bills will progress at the Council, but we can definitely say at this juncture that all of these bills have hit major roadblocks after receiving backlash from the rental housing industry and City agencies. We will keep you apprised of all upcoming developments with regard to these bills. 

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