Week In Review: October 24

Andres Pazmino from Chelsea/Greenwich Village Chamber of Commerce, Anwar Khoder from Li-Lac Chocolates, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick and Christopher Taylor from Li-Lac Chocolates at the award ceremony over the weekend.

State Senator Brad Hoylman celebrated the opening of Li-Lac Chocolate’s sixth location at Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue on Saturday. At a weekend ceremony, Hoylman presented Li-Lac Chocolates with the New York Senate Empire Award to honor this local small business. The Empire Award is the New York State Senate’s highest award for local businesses, honoring them for excellence and community involvement. Li-Lac Chocolates was given this award in recognition as Manhattan’s oldest chocolate house, and for making their community a sweeter place to live. At the award presentation on Saturday, October 19, Hoylman was joined by Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick; Erik Bottcher, Chief of Staff to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Anthony Cirone, Anwar Khoder and Christopher Taylor.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods,” Hoylman said. “At a time when multinational corporations and big landlords are making it difficult for small businesses to survive, it’s wonderful to see this local Greenwich Village small business thriving. I’m proud to present Li-Lac Chocolates with the New York Senate Empire Business Award to honor their years of success and sixth location. What could be sweeter than that?”

In response to the increased use of “smart key” systems in residential buildings throughout New York City, City Councilmember Mark Levine introduced legislation in the City Council last Thursday to prevent landlords from improperly using personal data collected by these systems to harass or evict tenants or to monitor their individual apartments. In recent years residential landlords in the city have increasingly been replacing traditional key locks with new keyless access to buildings – often referred to as “smart access systems.” These new entry systems replace physical keys with several new technological components like biometrics identifiers (i.e. fingerprints, eye scans, facial recognition technology), smartphone apps, and personalized key fobs. The ability of “smart access systems” to collect a broad range of personal data on tenants and their apartments has created serious concerns over where these systems can be used, what data can be collected, and who has access to that data.

“With the rapid conversion to electronic access in residential buildings across New York City, we have to make sure tenants are safeguarded from landlords who may try to use the information collected by these systems to harass or evict tenants from their homes,” Levine said. “Most renters in the city are probably unaware that every time they use a keyless access system in their building or in their apartment that information is electronically logged and can be seen by their landlords. We need to have strong regulations in place to protect tenants from the misuse of this data by their landlords. Every tenant has the right to know what data is being collected by their landlords and should feel secure that that data cannot be used against them.”

The de Blasio Administration launched a campaign on Monday to educate tenants on their new rights under the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. The ads, designed by The Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, give New York City renters the information they need to hold their landlords accountable. The ads will run from October 21 to December 15 and will be displayed in subways, bus shelters, small businesses, Staten Island ferry terminals, community newspapers, Link kiosks and online. The city’s Public Engagement Unit will be going door to door to make sure tenants know about the new protections and how to advocate for themselves.

Tenants across New York City won new protections this summer due to new State legislation. The new laws make it harder for landlords to evict tenants and strengthened protections for New Yorkers living in rent regulated apartments. These laws are enforced by the State’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR). These protections include protection from large security deposits, onerous application fees, limits on how rent can increase, and limits how much landlords can charge regulated tenants for building improvements. Anyone with questions about their rights or concerns that they are being illegally harassed can find more information at the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants’ new website or by calling 311.

“The State Legislature passed some of the most progressive rent reforms we’ve seen in decades, but if New Yorkers don’t know their rights, it will all be for nothing,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This campaign will arm New Yorkers with the knowledge to fight harassment and stay in their homes.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman praised Governor Cuomo last Thursday for signing legislation to end the double jeopardy loophole and enable requesting Congressional committees to obtain a President’s state tax information. As President Trump continues his abuses of power and conflicts of interest, Senator Hoylman and the New York State Senate are taking action to protect our democracy and constitution against abuses by this and future presidential administrations. Hoylman’s TRUST Act, which allows New York State to share tax return information with Congressional investigations, was passed by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo earlier this year. Governor Cuomo signed additional legislation last Wednesday to close the ‘double jeopardy’ loophole and reduce Trump’s power to pardon his corrupt associates; this legislation was advanced by Attorney General Letitia James, sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky and co-sponsored by Senator Hoylman.

“Combined with our new law to require Trump hand over his state tax returns to Congress, the new law closing double jeopardy loophole is New York’s ‘one-two punch’ against the lawlessness perpetrated by Donald Trump,” Hoylman said. “While the Trump Administration tramples on the constitution and the rule of law, New York is acting responsibly to hold the president accountable. I’m grateful to Governor Cuomo for signing these important bills into law and to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Senator Todd Kaminsky for passing this legislation.”

The City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions and the Committee on Land Use voted last Wednesday to approve the plan to close the jails on Rikers Island and build four new borough-based facilities, and the plan passed at a full vote in City Council last Thursday, culminating a years-long effort propelled by the strong advocacy of the formerly incarcerated to shutter Rikers Island. The vote occurred as Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson and Council leadership agree to a wide-range of investments tied to the closure of Rikers totaling $391 million dollars, including $126 million in previously planned investments and $265 million in new programming that will address the root causes of incarceration and help fundamentally reshape New York City’s criminal justice system going forward. These investments are being announced in detail for the first time today.

“Throughout this process I have stressed the importance of investing in communities most impacted by the criminal justice system,” said City Councilmember Keith Powers, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. “These targeted, citywide investments further indicate that closing Rikers Island is not only a land-use action, but an urgent moment to overhaul the criminal justice system.”

MTA New York City Transit announced last Thursday that more than 1,500 vehicles have been captured blocking bus lanes on the M15 Select Bus Service route since a new bus-mounted camera enforcement began on Oct. 7. The MTA’s newly implemented forward-facing mobile camera system is part of a multi-agency approach to keep bus lanes clear, speed up rides and prioritize transit on high-volume corridors throughout the city. NYC Transit is using an Automated Bus Lane Enforcement (ABLE) system on 51 buses that travel on the M15 Select Bus Service route, which uses dedicated bus lanes implemented by the New York City Department of Transportation. ABLE camera systems capture evidence such as license plate information, photos and videos, as well location and timestamp information, of vehicles obstructing bus lanes to document clear cases of bus lane violation. The system collects multiple pieces of evidence from multiples buses traveling in the bus lanes to ensure that vehicles making permitted turns from bus lanes are not ticketed. The package of evidence is transmitted to NYCDOT for review and processing, and the program is administered in partnership with NYCDOT and the NYC Department of Finance.

“Under Mayor de Blasio’s Better Buses Action Plan, we have committed to increase citywide bus speeds 25 percent by the end of 2020, and to get there, we will need to step up enforcement to keep vehicles out of the more than 100 miles of dedicated bus lanes we have built around the city,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “For years, we had overhead cameras along routes like the M15, but adding enforcement cameras to the buses themselves will help us further keep bus lanes clear, allowing tens of thousands of commuters to keep moving.  And we know that improvement in bus travel times consistently lead to increased ridership. We thank our state elected officials in Albany who successfully pushed for this change as well as NYCT President Andy Byford and the team at the MTA for their partnership as we strengthen this essential enforcement program, serving the New Yorkers who take more than 2 million daily bus trips.”

Editorial: Council bills will make a difference

Last week, the City Council passed a slew of bills aimed at tenant protection, and while not yet law, the mayor has indicated he’ll support them.

This is a tremendous relief. We believe these bills would go a long way in protecting tenants from landlords who flout the law, from making aggressive buyout offers to using construction as a form of harassment to blatantly lying on applications.

Additionally, the fact that so many housing bills were introduced shows how badly this intervention was needed in the first place. A perfect example is Council Member Keith Powers’ bill to crack down on landlords who lie in construction documents about whether or not their buildings have rent regulated tenants. This legislation was inspired by behavior by the Kushner Companies, who failed to disclose the presence of such tenants in 17 buildings a total of 42 times when filing applications to the Department of Buildings.

Another helpful bill will improve communication between city agencies with oversight of housing, making it easier to catch these inaccuracies.

Continue reading