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

Proposed Council Bill Gives Tenants Power

The legislation that is now known as the “Safe Housing Act” was spearheaded by Make the Road by Walking, City Council Members, and other community organizations. We have been active for over two years in bringing about the passage of the bill formerly called the “Healthy Homes Act”. 

Tenants at the mercy of negligent landlords will get a new tool in dealing with apartment problems if the City Council passes a new bill.

The legislation, called the Safe Housing Act, would permit the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to repair systemic problems on buildings that have received repeated complaints by tenants — and give the bill to the property owner. 

"This is a historic overhaul of how we deal with code enforcement in the city of New York," said Democratic Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "It empowers HPD not just to fix the leaky pipe but to figure out what caused the pipes to be leaky, and to replace them all if they have to."

Under current law, HPD can only fix what tenants complain about specifically, without looking at the larger heating, electrical, or plumbing issues that may lead to the problem.

"This bill gives HPD the strongest tools to make sure the worst problems get the attention they need," said Ray Breschia, associate director of the Urban Justice Center, a legal services organization. "Instead of just spraying for poison ivy they can get at its root."

The Safe Housing Act will target 200 buildings annually that have had to undergo multiple emergency visits by HPD.

The number of serious code violations have almost doubled since 2002.

According to the City Council, 46 percent of the 10,135 buildings that received emergency repairs last year were also cited the previous year, proof, the law’s backers say, that even landlords with multiple violations do not make proper improvements.

Tenant advocacy groups said the problem was caused not just by property owners who can’t afford upkeep, but also by those who deliberately keep their buildings in a state of disrepair in order to drive out tenants.

"The No. 1 reason these buildings are in disrepair is landlords intentionally let them get that way," said Irene Tung, coordinator of organizing with Make The Road By Walking, a community based organization in Bushwick. "The problem is getting much worse."

The proposed law is believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation, and received support from a broad coalition of tenants’ rights organizations, property owners, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council.

City Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn), who sponsored the legislation, said she expects it to pass without opposition. A vote by the full council is expected within the next two months.