City Council takes aim at bullying landlords

Council Member Helen Rosenthal has proposed opening an Office of tenant Advocate. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a set of bills that’s been dubbed the Stand for Tenant Safety Act. The legislation aims to crack down on acts of harassment by unscrupulous landlords by increasing penalties and making it easier for tenants to prove they’re being harassed, including when the behavior comes in the form of construction. Other bills call for the creation of a task force as well as a new office to help tenants cut through red tape.

That bill, sponsored by Helen Rosenthal, would create an “Office of Tenant Advocate” within the Department of Buildings.

“While many at DOB do important work on behalf of tenants, the bureaucracy just isn’t in place to make tenants’ voices heard,” Rosenthal said. “This bill will change that, giving tenants a dedicated watchdog and workhorse on their behalf.”

The bill to create a task force is aimed at evaluating current practices used by city agencies with regards to renovation and construction at residential buildings. Dan Garodnick, who sponsored this bill, said the task force would then come up with ideas to improve communication between the agencies, including the DOB, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the mayor’s office.

“Construction harassment is a lesser known but deeply troubling form of harassment,” Garodnick said. “We are determined to deliver effective and consistent strategies to help combat this practice.”

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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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