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Know Your Rights
Source: Capital New York
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Council bills would increase fines against worst landlords

The City Council’s housing and buildings committee will consider two meaures today that lawmakers say would strengthen Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to preserve and build 200,000 units of affordable housing in the next decade.

The measures, introduced by Councilmen Ritchie Torres and Antonio Reynoso, are part of a package of bills known as the Quality Housing Act. If passed, they would establish tougher penalties for the city’s worst landlords while also focusing on housing preservation. The mayor’s affordable housing plan includes preservation of 120,000 units and 80,000 new units.

One of the measures would allow the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to expand its Alternative Enforcement Program, which catalogues the city’s worst buildings based on violations. The number of buildings in the program would increase from 200 to 280. The bill also has the support of Manhattan councilman Dan Garodnick.

Affordable housing advocates say the expanded law will bring much needed attention to the chronic disrepair in the city’s affordable housing stock.

Jose Lopez, a lead organizer at Make the Road NY, a community advocacy group, said the bill will also force landlords to make repairs within a reasonable timeframe.

“The intent of the program is to identify the worst buildings with the worst violations across the five boroughs and have H.P.D. inspectors go in and tell the landlords they have four months to clear up the violation and if they don’t the city will send their workers to fix it and add the cost of that on top of the fines,” Lopez said.

Irania Sanchez, a rent-stabilized tenant from Bushwick, will testify before the Council today about the ordeal she faced after her building was sold and a new landlord began to push tenants out.

According to a copy of Sanchez’s testimony obtained by Capital, her new landlord began renovating five units in the building and removed the boiler even though she, her mother and two daughters were still living there.

Sanchez plans to tell the Council that because of the Alternative Enforcement Program inspectors, went to the building regularly and issued fines each time.

“All of a sudden, the landlord was very responsive. He wanted to fix things right away to avoid more fines,” Sanchez will tell the Council, according to her prepared testimony.

The second bill under consideration today would expand another existing law and allow the city to charge a $200 inspection fee if landlords fail to make repairs after three inspections. If a property is inspected three times and violations are still found, landlords would be subject to the fee for each subsequent inspection until the repairs are made.

Torres called the measure a “three strikes, you’re out” bill.

“Right now, if you call 311, H.P.D. comes and issues a notice of violation. It’s a little like a parking ticket without a fine—the owner has no incentive to repair the condition so the bill that I have would attach fees to that violation,” Torres said in an interview with Capital.

“These are two of the toughest and strongest pieces of housing preservation legislation moving in the City Council right now,” Reynoso said in a statement. “These bills will have a dramatic impact on holding landlords accountable and improving quality-of-life for low-income tenants.”

Torres said he plans to introduce more legislation in the coming months that will focus on the aspect of preservation of existing affordable housing.

“Obviously housing has been a central subject of conversation,” Torres said. “But I feel strongly that it’s not enough to speak about affordability. We have to speak also about housing quality. What good is an apartment that you can afford if it’s unlivable?”

Officials from H.P.D are expected to testify at the hearing, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway.

A spokesman for de Blasio declined to say whether the mayor supports the measures.

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