City Council bill blitz takes aim at lying landlords

Council Member Keith Powers and other members of the Council (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council has introduced a package of 18 bills that take aim at landlords who use shady tactics to empty their buildings on lower-rent paying tenants.

To crack down on the practices, which include lying on permits and denying access to building inspectors, the legislation’s sponsors are hoping to hit back with denials of permits and doubling of fines for violating existing laws.

Keith Powers was one of the 12 council members who introduced a bill. His legislation would deny building permits to property owners for one year if they are caught lying about the number of occupied units in their buildings.

Powers told Town & Village the bills are intended to crack down on bad actors and improve coordination between oversight agencies. They were, in part, inspired by the revelation that the Kushner Companies failed to note the presence of rent-stabilized tenants in 17 buildings 42 times when filing applications with the Department of Buildings.

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Affordable housing and L train woes top concerns at East Side town hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio answers questions from audience members at a town hall co-hosted by Council Member Keith Powers at Hunter College. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The L train shutdown and the lack of local affordable housing were among the main concerns of East Side residents who packed a town hall hosted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Keith Powers last Wednesday evening. The mayor, along with numerous representatives from city agencies as well as Powers and other local elected officials, answered questions from more than 300 advocates and community residents during the event at Hunter College.

Stuyvesant Town resident and former ST/PCV Tenants Association president Al Doyle got in the first question of the night, asking the mayor if he would actively support a return to rent stabilization of all apartments that had been deregulated due to vacancy decontrol.

The mayor admitted that he couldn’t necessarily commit to that, at least at this point, despite wanting to.

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Council calls for stronger rent regs

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg (at right) waits to give testimony about why rent regulations are needed. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council Housing and Buildings committee held a hearing on legislation aimed at maintaining rent stabilization in the city this past Monday, with city elected officials also expressing strong support for the repeal of various policies at the state level that allow landlords to increase rents and move apartments out of the program, such as vacancy decontrol, preferential rent and vacancy bonuses.

Although the state controls rent regulation, the legislation heard in the Council this week proposed the extension of rent stabilization in the city and includes a resolution determining that a public emergency requiring rent control continues to exist and will continue to exist on and after April 1.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson pressed representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development at the hearing about whether or not the de Blasio administration supports the repeal of vacancy decontrol.

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City is warehousing vacant lots intended for housing: Stringer

City Comptroller Scott Stringer is accusing the HPD of failing to meet its own target dates for taking actions on available properties.

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, saying that at the rate it’s been working to turn over 1,000 vacant city-owned lots into affordable housing, it’ll take 17 years to get them all breaking ground.

His announcement followed a report he issued in 2016 that showed the city was warehousing over 1,100 vacant lots.

Out of those properties, Stringer said nearly 90 percent (1,007) have remained undeveloped. HPD, he said, has transferred only 64 to developers and 54 others have been transferred to other city agencies for their use. Additionally, some properties have remained vacant for 50 years.

Stringer noted that while the city has intended to turn hundreds of these lots into affordable housing, it has failed to meet its own target dates for taking action on 80 percent of them. Stringer is calling for all of the city-owned lots to be used for over 50,000 units of permanent affordable housing and for HPD to create a “realistic” timetable to either make this happen or turn the properties over to other agencies or developers.

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Baruch professor appointed as a public member of RGB

Hilary Botein said she was surprised to be asked to serve on the board. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Botein)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced two new appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board — the same day the board held its first meeting to help determine this year’s rent increase (or freeze) for over a million households.

One was real estate professor and lawyer David Reiss. The other was Hilary Botein, an attorney and associate professor at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, who teaches courses on housing and community development policy. Both she and Reiss are now public members, replacing K. Sabeel Rahman and Steven Flax.

Reached on the phone after Botein attended her first RGB meeting as an active participant, she told Town & Village the call from the mayor’s office came as a surprise. However, saying yes to the unpaid position wasn’t difficult for Botein, who’s been to many RGB hearings and meetings as an observer and has also sent her students to the often raucous forum for assignments.

“It is a lot of work and a big responsibility,” she said, “but I also felt it was an opportunity to bring my experience and knowledge of housing in New York to (impact) millions of people.”

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Bills take aim at predatory equity

Tenants hold signs at a rally at City Hall, followed by a City Council hearing on legislation aimed at curbing the practice of predatory equity. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants hold signs at a rally at City Hall, followed by a City Council hearing on legislation aimed at curbing the practice of predatory equity. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Halloween, dozens of tenants holding spooky signs rallied at City Hall to bash landlords as vampires if they engage in predatory equity. The event was held prior to a City Council hearing on a package of bills that were aimed at stopping the blood-sucking practice.

Predatory equity is generally defined as when a landlord purchases a property with a high level of debt that could only be expected to be paid if the owner aggressively tries to get rid of rent-regulated tenants and replace them with higher paying ones. Tactics that could be considered aggressive by landlords include harassment via frivolous lawsuits, a lack of basic maintenance, illegal fees, constant buyout offers or construction that’s unsafe or seems gratuitously disruptive.

One of the City Council members pushing legislation, Dan Garodnick, gave the example of Stuyvesant Town’s sale to Tishman Speyer a decade ago as a prime example of predatory equity.

“This is when landlords overpay for buildings with the speculation that they will be able to deregulate units and drive out tenants,” he said. “You’re not making them enough money so they will try anything to get you out of there. This is harassment.”

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