As the City continues to experience a crisis in homelessness, the Council remains committed to helping more people stay in their homes. This year, the Council took historic action to protect tenants — from providing them with legal counsel to expanding the definition of tenant harassment and creating higher standards for heating.
Leveling the Playing Field Between Tenants and Landlords
In 2017, the Council made New York the first city in the nation to provide all tenants facing eviction access to legal services.
Tenants facing eviction did not previously have a guaranteed right to counsel, as the case with criminal proceedings,. In New York City housing court, 99% of landlords in were represented, compared to just 1% of tenants. Similarly, residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings who face administrative proceedings that can lead to eviction rarely have legal assistance.
The Council helped level the playing field between landlords and tenants by requiring the City’s Civil Justice Coordinator to, within five years time, establish programs to provide all tenants facing eviction with access to legal services. Low-income individuals with eviction cases in housing court will have full legal representation while all others will receive brief legal assistance.
The Coordinator has already begun implementation on a program to provide legal services to all NYCHA tenants in administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. Each year, the Coordinator will hold public hearings and issue reports on the progress and effectiveness of these programs, as well as the amount of funding needed to continue their implementation.
Preventing Construction Abuses by Landlords
This year, the Council addressed the issue of unscrupulous landlords creating hazardous construction conditions to push tenants out of their homes. This package of 11 pieces of legislation ensures that tenants are safe in their homes while construction is going on in their buildings and that they have resources available to them during construction. Under these new laws created by the Council, the Department of Buildings will increase penalties for contractors who engage in construction work without the correct permits or who violate stop-work orders. Contractors who repeatedly engage in work without a required permit now face increased oversight.
The Council also mandated that developers must now file for a certificate of no harassment before obtaining a work permit from the Department of Buildings. This helps ensure that owners who have engaged in harassment previously do not obtain certain work permits unless they agree to rent out portions of the completed construction as affordable housing.
Expanding Harassment Protections
In 2017, the Council passed legislation that significantly expands harassment protections for tenants. This legislation makes it easier to prove harassment in cases where a landlord is threatening a tenant or engaging in building-wide harassment and prevents landlords from visiting or contacting tenants at odd hours without consent. It also expands harassment protections to smaller buildings and allows victims of harassment to recover damages and reasonable attorney fees.
Increasing the Minimum Night-Time Temperature
Between October 1 and May 31, also known as heating season, owners of residential buildings are required to provide heat for their tenants must maintain certain minimum. This year, the Council passed legislation to increase the minimum nighttime (between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.) temperature during heating season from 55 degrees to 62 degrees, regardless of the outdoor temperature.
In recent years, reports have found that owners are not complying with affordable housing requirements. To ensure that landlords hold up their end of the bargain, the Council passed legislation that made key changes to the department of Housing Prevention and Development. HPD is now required to audit buildings receiving 421-a benefits for compliance with the affordability and rent registration requirements. 421-a allows a developer to receive a tax exemption for building multi-family rental housing, as long as 20% of the units are affordable.
HPD is now also required to report on financial assistance provided by the City for housing development projects, including housing programs and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) programs and contributions made to the MIH affordable housing fund.
Expanding Language Access
City opportunities must be accessible to a wide breadth of New Yorkers. This year, the Council passed legislation requiring HPD to make all applications and corresponding instructions available in English, Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. The legislation also allows for HPD to use additional languages at their discretion. In addition, HPD is now required to provide a notice, listing all the languages in which applications are available, on its website and in HPD offices that are open to the public.
Extending Protections to Residents of Three-Quarters Housing
Three-quarters houses are one- and two- family homes, larger apartment buildings, and other structures that are run by operators who rent beds to single adults. Often held out as substance abuse or other programs, these operations are not regulated and often violate tenants’ rights by forcing individuals to attend substance abuse treatment, even when not needed, and engaging in illegal evictions. In February 2017, the Council passed a package of legislation aimed at extending protections to residents of three-quarters housing. These bills made the following changes:
- Required individuals to be informed about eviction procedures and protections;
- Removed the time limit on applying for relocation assistance;
- Made it clear that any tenant who moves out while a vacate order is in effect is entitled to assistance;
- Allowed tenants to verify their residency for relocation assistance through additional means; and
- Prohibited landlords from mandating medical treatment as a condition of occupancy.