Council will also vote to clarify legislation regarding gas station signage

City Hall – Today the City Council will vote on a package of three bills that will protect tenants in rent-regulated housing units from harassment and coercion by landlords offering “buyout” deals. Additionally, the Council will vote on two bills that clarify the requirements previously set by the Council for signage at city gas stations. Finally, the Council will vote on legislation to improve safety at animal service facilities.

Tenant Harassment

In rent-regulated housing units, owners sometimes offer tenants money to vacate their apartments, known as a “buyout”. In recent years, due in part to rapidly increasing housing prices, some owners have engaged in abusive and intimidating behavior to coerce tenants into accepting these buyout offers and leaving their homes.

Introduction 757-A, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would amend the Housing Maintenance Code’s definition of “harassment” to make it unlawful for an owner to contact a tenant about a buyout offer within 180 days after such tenant has notified the owner or his or her agent, in writing, that such tenant does not wish to be communicated with about buyouts. During the 180 day period the owner can only communicate about buyout offers with the tenant if such communication is authorized by the court or if notified in writing by such tenant of an interest in receiving such communications.

“All of these laws will protect tenants and keep the process of buyout offers by land lords fair and honest,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “New Yorkers who live in rent-regulated housing have the right to stay in their homes, and no one should feel pressured, intimidated or coerced to accept an offer they don’t want to take. With this legislative package, we will ensure that rent-regulated tenants are protected from harassment and coercion.”

Additionally, Introduction 682-A, sponsored by Council Member Garodnick would amend the Housing Maintenance Code’s definition of “harassment” to make it unlawful for a dwelling owner to, in connection with a buyout offer, (1) threaten, intimidate, or use profane or obscene language, (2) contact tenants at such odd hours or with such frequency as to reasonably be expected to abuse or harass, (3) contact tenants at their place of employment without prior written consent, or (4) knowingly falsify or misrepresent information provided to the tenant.

“People with a specialty in relocating tenants need to abide by a specific code of conduct, and that can’t include harassment,” said Council Member Garodnick. “We are taking steps today to tighten the rules, and to ensure fairness for tenants.”

Finally, Introduction 700-A, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, would ensure that tenants are aware of their rights in connection with buyout offers, by making it unlawful for a tenant to be contacted regarding a buyout offer without being notified of each of the following in writing: (1) the purpose for the contact; (2) that they may refuse any offer made and may continue to occupy their dwelling unit; (3) that they may seek the guidance of an attorney regarding any offer made; (4) that such contact is made by or on behalf of the owner; and (5) that they may refuse any further contact regarding a buyout offer for a period of 180 days, unless such contact is authorized by the court or if notified in writing by such tenant of an interest in receiving such communications.

“Our city cannot stand by while tenants are being harassed out of their homes. There are too many unscrupulous owners of rent stabilized buildings who will do anything to have a tenant vacate their apartment, including hiring a tenant relocator to get the job done. Tenants don’t deserve to be intimidated out of their homes, and should be informed of their rights to refuse buyout offers. I am proud to sponsor this legislation which will combat such egregious tenant harassment behavior, and thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and my Council colleagues for pushing these important reforms,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Deputy Leader and Chair of the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee.

Gas Station Signage

The Council will vote on two bills to clarify the requirements for any signs, placards or other display that advertises the price of petroleum products offered for sale at a gas station.

Introduction 287-A, sponsored by Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, would require that if a gas station chooses to display any signs, posters or placards advertising the price of gasoline that the sign state, at a minimum, the lowest grade of gasoline offered for sale and its price per gallon inclusive of all applicable taxes. The bill would also allow gas stations that choose to erect road signs for purposes of advertising their gasoline to oncoming traffic, to post LED signs. Currently, gas stations are subject to fines for posting signs that advertise gas prices and are displayed in a manner other than black lettering on white background.

“Intro 278-A will ensure that the public is adequately informed about gas pricing without overburdening our small gas station owners,” said Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “Owners will no longer face conflict with zoning and regulations while attempting to comply with our administrative codes.”

Introduction 586-A, sponsored by Council Member Espinal, would require gas stations that offer a different price for purchases made in cash or another specified form of payment to state the price for each type of accepted payment on any sign, poster or other display that advertises the price of gasoline offered for sale.

“New Yorkers who drive should not be met with a different price at the pump than gas station road signs advertise to street traffic. Motor fuel is a necessity to many and the price of this item, like any, ought to be transparent. The gas station signage bill is a common sense piece of legislation that protects the consumer from misleading advertisements. As chair of the Consumer Affairs committee, I carefully work to protect the consumer while balancing the interest of businesses in our city. I firmly believe this bill accomplishes both and will benefit both drivers and gas stations alike,” said Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

Building Safety for Animal Service Facilities

In recent years, there have been several incidents of fires within animal service facilities resulting in the death of trapped animals.

Introduction 145-A, sponsored by Council Member Corey Johnson, would protect these animals by requiring animal service facilities (where animals are sheltered on a 24-hour basis) to install automatic sprinkler systems or provide 24-hour supervision of areas where animals are sheltered. Existing facilities would be allowed to install an automatic smoke detection system instead.

Facilities would be required to comply with these requirements by December 31, 2016.

“We have a responsibility to care for our pets and protect them from harm,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Health. “The simple fact is that fire sprinklers can make the difference between life and death. Buildings with sprinklers are significantly less likely to experience serious damages than those without them, and when establishments contain unattended animals who are locked in cages, we must ensure that this fundamental safeguard is in place. It has taken over 15 years to get this bill passed, and I would like to thank my colleagues and all the advocates who are fighting to ensure that our animals are protected from harm.”