Floating billboards officially banned in New York

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Floating billboards are officially banned in New York waterways, thanks to a court order by Judge Louis L. Stanton on Tuesday, reinforcing a new state law originally introduced by State Senator Brad Hoylman and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo at the end of August.

The New York Law Department announced the settlement of a lawsuit against Ballyhoo Media, which has repeatedly displayed large floating LED billboards on a barge that traveled daily along the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts, despite the law that prohibits them.

Under the law, which was originally introduced in the Senate by Hoylman and in the Assembly by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, boats are not allowed to operate digital billboards or other billboards that use flashing or moving lights. The bill also empowers local governments to restrict or ban the use of outdoor advertising signage on vessels within 1,500 feet from shore.

Violations of the law are subject to a $1,000 civil penalty for the first violation and $5,000 for subsequent violations.

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Maloney recovering after brief hospitalization

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, pictured here at a press conference this summer, nearly fainted during a vigil on Monday for the four homeless men who were killed in Chinatown over the weekend. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is recovering after a brief hospitalization on Monday following an incident during a vigil on Monday, later clarifying that she has been recovering from bronchitis.

The New York Post reported that Maloney nearly fainted while attending the vigil, which was held for the four homeless men who were killed in Chinatown over the weekend.

Maloney, 73, was escorted to a nearby bench, where a staffer pressed a bottle of Coke to the back of her neck. The Daily News reported that the Congresswoman was on the verge of blacking out and told a staffer that she felt pain and couldn’t see. A staffer from City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office called 911 and Maloney was transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

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City announces changes to NYC Rent Freeze Program

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The de Blasio administration announced last Wednesday that the city will now be able to freeze rents at the preferential level for tenants eligible for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE).

“For far too long, thousands of low-income older adults and people with disabilities with preferential were unable to benefit from NYC’s Rent Freeze Programs,” said State Senator Liz Kruger, who is also the prime sponsor of preferential rent legislation. “I am extremely happy that New York State’s new rent laws finally eliminated the preferential rent loophole, making it possible for tenants with preferential rents to benefit from SCRIE and DRIE.”

The legal rent of a rent-stabilized apartment is based on the unique history of the unit and is the maximum legal rent for each apartment. Preferential rent is rent that a landlord charged to a rent-regulated tenant that is lower than the legal rent.

SCRIE and DRIE, known collectively as the NYC Rent Freeze Program, is administered by the Department of Finance and helps eligible seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities stay in affordable housing by freezing their rent. The programs are available to eligible tenants living in rent-regulated apartments. To qualify for SCRIE, residents must be at least 62 years old, the head of household on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and spend more than one-third of their monthly household income on rent. DRIE is available to tenants who are  at least 18 years old, are named on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and must be awarded one of the following: Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability pension or disability compensation; disability-related Medicaid if the applicant has received either SSI or SSDI in the past; or the United States Postal Service (USPS) disability pension or disability compensation.

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Hoylman combatting robocalls with legislation

State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou with representatives from AARP (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman urged the passage of legislation to curb robocalls on Friday, September 6 along with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and representatives from AARP and Consumer Reports, prior to an Assembly hearing on how to combat the pervasive calls. The Robocall Prevention Act, sponsored by Hoylman in the Senate and Niou in the Assembly, would effectively ban unwanted robocalls in the state of New York and the hearing examined actions to fight robocalls in addition to nuisance phone calls and spoofing.

The bill passed in the State Senate unanimously on June 14 but has not yet passed in the Assembly.

“This legislation that passed in the Senate passed with both Republican and Democratic support, which shows how widespread this issue is, how it’s impacting the constituents, how it’s hurting our seniors, how it’s defrauding our citizenry and something has to be done about it,” Hoylman said.

According to the YouMail Robocall Index, which estimates monthly robocall volume in the United States, almost 50 billion robocalls were placed to consumers in 2018, which is an all-time record. As of September 1, there have already been more than 38 billion robocalls this year. New York City ranks third out of all cities in the country in 2019, according to the index, with more than 1.3 billion robocalls, which is roughly 79 calls per person.

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Local politicians, experts answer questions on rent laws

Delsenia Glover, Ellen Davidson and State Senator Brad Hoylman answered questions about the rent laws. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

More than 200 tenants attended a housing forum hosted by State Senator Liz Krueger’s office on September 10 to learn more about the impacts of the rent laws that were passed in June, addressing the repeal of vacancy decontrol, preferential rents and new rules for major capital improvements.

The forum, held at CUNY’s Graduate Center on Fifth Avenue, was also attended by State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, the former Assemblymember for District 74 and currently the Chairman of Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development for the Senate, housing advocate Delsenia Glover of Tenants and Neighbors, NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas and Legal Aid attorney Ellen Davidson.

The local elected officials, experts and advocates at the forum discussed some of the major takeaways from the new rent laws that were passed, specifically regarding how they would affect rent-regulated tenants, and answered questions about housing-related issues.

Visnauskas said that the strengthened rent laws are helping to preserve affordable housing throughout the state by removing loopholes that landlords could exploit to increase rents and push apartments out of rent stabilization.

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Stuyvesant Town residents shocked by polling site changes

A polling site in Stuyvesant Town during last November’s election (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuyvesant Town residents in multiple buildings were shocked to learn last Wednesday that their polling sites had changed to a location in Campos Plaza Community Center at 611 East 13th Street. The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association said in an email on Wednesday that residents who got the notices bombarded Councilmember Keith Powers’ office and the TA’s message center about the changes.

The message from the TA noted that residents from as far away as East 20th Street were being instructed to vote at the Campos Plaza polling site across East 14th Street.

The Board of Elections has been shifting polling places around in recent years, primarily to make sure that the sites are ADA compliant, and Powers’ office has been working with the BOE to find spaces in Stuy Town that can be used as polling sites.

Powers said that the changes are due to accessibility concerns because there are a number of long-term poll sites that the BOE has been using that are not fully ADA compliant. Schools are often a popular spot for polling sites but Powers said that a number of the schools in the neighborhood are not actually ADA compliant yet, although the city is also working to correct that discrepancy. In the meantime, he is still hoping that spaces in Stuyvesant Town can be usable and his office has been working with management to get access to those spaces.

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Housing, transit major issues at District 4 town hall

Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at the town hall on Tuesday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Top priority for residents at a City Council District 4 town hall this week was affordable housing and transportation issues, in addition to addressing homelessness.

The town hall, hosted by Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson this Tuesday, was held at CUNY’s Graduate Center and was attended by more than 300 residents.

Susan Steinberg, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, brought up the issue of affordable housing and the new rent laws for the first question of the night.

“Right away landlords went into a tailspin,” she said of the strengthened rent laws. “Blackstone who are the owners of Stuyvesant Town, have decided that they had to regroup and re-strategize because their business model no longer worked. And the way they did this was to hit the pause button on renovating vacant apartments and making them unavailable, so it’s tantamount to warehousing. And we were very concerned about that.”

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Elevator licensing law proposed after man falls to his death in Kips Bay

344 Third Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

This story originally appeared in Real Estate Weekly.

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman is co-sponsoring a law that would require elevator inspectors to be licensed is expected to be signed by Governor Cuomo following the death last week of a man in Kips Bay.

Sam Waisbren, 30, died trying to escape from a plunging elevator at 344 Third Avenue, the apartment building where he lived.

City records show the property, owned and managed by ATA, had a previous violation for a door zone restrictor, a safety device that had been tampered with, disabled and rendered inoperative, according to the Department of Buildings.

The building’s owner was fined $1,280 and slapped with two further violations this past May for not taking proper safety measures for unrelated construction work at the building, known as Manhattan Promenade. The death came as legislation languishes in Albany after being passed by both the State Senate and the Assembly.

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Stuyvesant Town resident challenging Maloney

Stuy Town resident Peter Harrison (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuyvesant Town resident Peter Harrison is the latest candidate to challenge Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for her seat in the 12th District, with a campaign centered on the housing crisis.

“I’m a housing person, both as an activist and as a policy person,” he said. “And there’s a moment right now in this district to talk about housing as this lens for other major, major issues. The narrative of the campaign really is centered on housing as this focal point for talking about economic justice, climate justice and racial justice.”

Harrison moved in Stuy Town as a market-rate tenant in 2009 with some friends and less than a year later, they received a letter saying that they were members of the Roberts class-action lawsuit. That prompted him to get involved with the STPCV Tenants Association.

“There was an amazing opportunity to learn how to organize tenants because it was a ton of effort, and a huge capacity left for the TA,” he said. “So I really got thrown in, became a building captain and was knocking on hundreds and hundreds of doors, learning a lot about it.”

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Local politicians call on sanitation to remove trucks from East 10th Street

The trucks have been on East 10th Street for almost a year. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State elected officials are introducing legislation that would prevent the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) from storing their trucks in residential neighborhoods after East Village residents voiced complaints about the vehicles on their block for the last year.

Elected officials spoke about the quality of life issue on the block at East 10th Street between First and Second Avenues this past Sunday morning, noting that it has been almost a year since the Department of Sanitation started parking on the block and also announced that they would be sending a letter to Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia requesting updates on the situation.

The letter noted that Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the situation last September, shortly after the trucks first arrived in the neighborhood on September 15, 2018, saying that he would try to work something out with the commissioner because the city didn’t want residential areas to feel the burden of the trucks, but the situation has remained largely unchanged since then, residents and business owners said.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Deborah Glick in the State Assembly and Brad Hoylman in the State Senate, would amend the administrative code to prohibit garbage trucks from parking overnight on city streets. The new section would specify that vehicles operated by or under contract with the Department of Sanitation, and which are used for removing, disposing of or transporting solid waste, can’t be parked on the streets overnight.

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Attorney running to unseat Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney

Erica Vladimer (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Attorney Erica Vladimer still has a long way to go before the Congressional Primary next June, but she’s ready to challenge longtime Congressmember Carolyn Maloney in the election for the District 12 seat after announcing her candidacy this past June. The district covers the East Side of Manhattan, including the East Village, parts of Midtown and the Upper East Side, as well as Long Island City and Astoria in Queens and Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

“I never fully intended to run for office, especially at this age, but if there’s ever been a time where a new generation needs to bring a new voice to all levels of government, this is it,” Vladimer said of her campaign. “And it gutturally feels right.”

Vladimer, 32, filed her paperwork to run on June 3 but was also in the news at the beginning of last year after she accused State Senator Jeff Klein of forcibly kissing her outside a bar in Albany while she was a member of his staff. She left his office in 2015 and said that she thought she had put it behind her, but felt differently when she started hearing about the accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.

“I will forever carry that with me,” she said of the incident. “Other people who were harassed, I feel that I played some role in it because I didn’t speak out.”

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Questions answered at housing forum

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmember Keith Powers, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Cooper Square Committee director of organizing and policy Brandon Kielbasa, State Senator Liz Krueger and Legal Aid housing attorney Ellen Davidson at the forum last week. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein’s office sponsored a forum on Thursday at the NYU Dental School on East 24th Street regarding the rent laws that passed in June to answer questions that tenants have about rent regulation and affordable housing protections.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Ben Kallos, were also in attendance, and Legal Aid housing attorney Ellen Davidson was available to answer questions about the complex aspects of the new laws.

“The MCI section [of the rent laws] is just like MCIs: very complicated,” Davidson said of one of the parts of the law most difficult to understand. “[The Division of Housing and Community Renewal] will have to set a schedule of reasonable costs of what can be recovered but they have to do it quickly because they can’t do any work until it’s approved.”

One of the victories that state legislators claimed in the passage of the rent laws was an annual cap on MCIs, or major capital improvements, at 2%. The previous cap was 6%. The new law also caps the amount that a landlord can pass on to tenants after a vacant apartment is renovated at $89, while also eliminating the previous 20% vacancy bonus that landlords could add after tenants moved out.

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Anti-vaxxers protest local politicians at forum

Anti-vax protesters attended the housing forum to voice their concerns to state legislators, primarily State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, about a law that eliminated religious exemptions for vaccines. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Anti-vax protesters disrupted a housing forum held at the NYU Dental School last Thursday, frustrating tenants who wanted to learn details about the new rent laws.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger were two of the elected officials at the event and the two that received the most ire from the protesters, primarily because they were both sponsors legislation in the State Senate repealing religious exemptions for vaccinations.

The law requires that all students in public and private schools be vaccinated to attend, with no exceptions made for those with religious objections to vaccines, and many of the protesters at the event had signs arguing that thousands of children, including those with special needs, were being kicked out of their schools because of their parents’ religious beliefs.

The protest surprised elected officials attending, in part because local politicians who appear at community events in the neighborhood rarely have such vehement opposition to their policies, especially where the topic at hand is entirely unrelated to the subject being protested, but also because the legislation passed more than a month ago in mid-June.

Even as he was arriving at the event, Hoylman was challenged in the elevator by a man who argued that politicians shouldn’t be dictating how parents provide healthcare to their children, while Hoylman shot back, “You’re right, doctors should, and they have.”

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City Council passes retail vacancy registry bill and others aimed at helping mom-and-pop

Il Forno on Second Avenue is one of the many small businesses in the neighborhood that has closed in recent months. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Tuesday, the City Council passed five bills aimed at helping mom-and-pops, including one that would track retail vacancies and information about those spaces’ leasing history.

Each of the bills passed unanimously, with the exception of the vacancy tracking one, which still easily got through with just two objections.

If signed by the mayor, building owners would be required to submit information to the city regarding ground and second floor commercial spaces. The city’s Department of Finance would then establish publicly available data on those commercial properties, disaggregated by council district. Information would include median average duration of leases, the median and average remaining term to lease expiration, the median and average size of rentable floor area, the number of such premises reported as being leased and vacant, the median and average rent, the length of time a property has not been leased as well as construction information, and the number of such premises where the lease is due to expire within two years of the current calendar year. The bill would also require the release of a list of addresses of commercial properties and an indicator of whether or not such properties are vacant.

The legislation’s sponsor, Council Member Helen Rosenthal, said she thought it would go a long way to fighting retail blight.

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Senate passes 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, joined by US Senator Charles Schumer (left) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right), cheered the passage of the legislation in the House earlier this month.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The bill to make the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund permanent passed in the Senate by a vote of 97 to 2 on Tuesday, following its passage by an overwhelming majority in the House earlier this month.

Following the bill’s passage in the House on July 12, lead sponsor Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call for a vote in the Senate before the August recess during a press conference across from the World Trade Center memorial last Monday. During the event, Maloney donned an FDNY jacket gifted to her by the Fire Department, which she had pledged to wear at all events to raise awareness until this particular bill had passed.

“The true Twin Towers of New York are the FDNY and the NYPD, and fully funding and permanently authorizing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is the least we can do to honor their sacrifices,” Maloney said following the vote in the Senate. “I will not rest until the September 11th Victim Compensation Program is made permanent and we finally turn our promise to Never Forget into law. I hope the President signs this legislation quickly, so we can finally give these heroes the peace of mind they deserve.”

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