Council Votes to Create Bed Bug Advisory Board to Combat City’s Bed Bug Epidemic; Also Votes to Protect City’s Consumers by Requiring Debt Collectors to Get Licenses from DCA

City Hall – At today’s Stated Council meeting, the members of the New York City Council will vote on legislation to create a Bed Bug Advisory Board in response to the city’s widespread bed bug infestation. The Advisory Board will be tasked with developing a strategy to track and fight outbreaks and form recommendations for public education and awareness in preventing and treating the spread of bed bugs in the five boroughs.

Additionally, the Council will vote to:

Require debt buyers to obtain a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) even if they refer collection activities to an affiliate;
Reestablish and strengthen the role of the City’s Waterfront Management Advisory Board;
Increase permitting fees for owners of private dumps and solid waste transfer stations as well as establish new registration fees for intermodal solid waste container facilities.
As announced in her 2009 State of the City address, Speaker Quinn will also introduce legislation to heighten penalties for anyone who commits gang initiation crimes.

Bed Bug Advisory Board

Addressing the bed bug infestation epidemic in New York City, the City Council will vote to create a Bed Bug Advisory Board. The Advisory Board will consist of representatives from the Departments of Consumer Affairs, Health and Mental Hygiene, Sanitation, Information Technology and Communications, and Housing Preservation. Additionally, a pest management professional, an entomologist, and a community health professional will be selected to serve on the Board.

Specifically, the Bed Bug Advisory Board will issue recommendations on:

Prevention and treatment of infestations in private dwellings and public places
Tracking and reporting of infestations
Best practices for disposal of bed bug infested items
Training and education for pest management professionals and city employees
Public education and resource materials
“One of New York City’s smallest pests has become one of our biggest headaches,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Thanks to the work of Council Member Brewer, we understand much more about these insects and how to control them. Today, we are taking official action to rid our City of these pests and to teach New Yorkers the best ways to get them out and keep them out.”

“Bedbugs are back and for the tens of thousands whose homes have been infested they are no longer an urban legend but a personal and financial nightmare,” said Council Member Gale A. Brewer, lead sponsor of the bill. “This Bed Bug Advisory Board is a milestone in organizing a strategy to fight back. It puts government at the center of efforts to educate the public, offer sound, practical guidance, and coordinate the work of health and housing professionals, entomologists, pest control experts, advocates, and residents.”

New York City has lagged behind other cities, like Cincinnati, San Francisco, Boston and Toronto in dealing with its infestation problem. Currently, DOHMH offers a bed bug fact sheet in Spanish and English that is available through 311 and the City website.

Debt Collection Agencies

With New Yorkers facing increasing financial pressure amidst the economic recession, the Council will vote to create stricter enforcement and additional regulations for debt collectors. Specifically, this legislation will require debt buyers to obtain a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) even if they refer collection activities to an attorney or hire an affiliate to issue demand letters or place calls to city residents. They will also be subject to DCA obligations to report on their activities and respond to consumer inquiries.

“We are empowering residents and the City to fight back against unlawful harassment and deceptive practices,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “Today, we take a great step forward for New Yorkers, to ensure a process of orderly debt collection rather than menacing intimidation.”

A 2007 report by the Urban Justice Center (UJC) found that debt collectors bring approximately 320,000 cases against New Yorkers every year, and obtain approximately $800 million in judgments. However, the UJC report found that in a sample of 600 cases, 42% were brought by unlicensed collection agencies, which are frequently third-party debt buyers with no prior relationship to the New Yorkers they are suing, and with little evidence to support their claims. As a result, New Yorkers can end up paying money they do not owe.

“I want to thank my colleague, Council Member Dan Garodnick, for putting forth this legislation,” Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Leroy Comrie. “Our nation’s troubling economic climate has created hardships for many residents of our city, and these fiscal challenges have led some to an increased reliance on credit and ultimately, a descent into debt. For some, however, the unfortunate business of debt collection has become very profitable and led to an unregulated environment because of legal loopholes. It is our hope that the passage of this bill will assist providing much-needed regulation to this situation and some relief to working class New Yorkers.”

Waterfront Management Advisory Board

The Council will vote to reinstate and strengthen the role of the City’s Waterfront Management Advisory Board. Formerly located within the Department of Ports and Trade, and now under the jurisdiction of the Department on Small Business Services, the Charter-mandated Waterfront Management Advisory Board has been an underutilized component in the management of the City’s waterfront and has not convened since the Dinkins Administration.

This legislation reestablishes the Board’s powers and responsibilities including exploring opportunities for expanding the recreational use of the waterfront and issuing a biennial report to the Mayor, the Council and the Borough Presidents on the development of the waterfront. Structurally, the legislation will reduce the Board’s number of ex officio members and modify the types of board members who may serve from the pubic.

“Although the Waterfront Management Advisory Board has existed in the City Charter, it was heavily underutilized since its inception,” said Council Member Michael Nelson. “This legislation gives the Advisory Board a fresh start in its mission of bettering over 500 miles of New York City’s waterfront property. The Waterfront Management Advisory Board will increase public participation in the development of waterfront policy and undoubtedly create more jobs and substantial recreational activities as well as bring in more revenue for the city.”

Municipal Transfer Station Fee Increase

The Council will vote to increase permit fees for operators of solid waste transfer stations. It will also vote to establish new registration fees for intermodal solid waste container facilities.

The legislation will increase the annual permit fee charged by the City for non-putrescible solid waste transfer stations, which service non-decomposable refuse, from $3,500 to $7,000 and for putrescible solid waste transfer stations, which service decomposable refuse, from $6,500 to $13,000. In addition, the bill would create an annual $7,000 registration fee to operate intermodal solid waste container facilities.

Gang Initiation Crime Introduction

Announced during her 2009 State of the City address, Speaker Quinn will introduce legislation to create two new statues to increase jail time to up to one year for those who engage in behavior as part of gang initiation acts. Current State statutes require as little as fifteen days in jail for anyone who, as part of gang initiation practices, encourages another person to commit a crime, puts other people at risk of physical injury, or physically threatens another person.