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Know Your Rights
Source: New York City Official Website
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Speaker Quinn and HPD Commissoner Cestero Announce Action by the City Council to Expand Law for New Yorkers Living in the City’s Worst Buildings

City Hall – City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Rafael E. Cestero announce that the New York City Council will take action today by introducing legislation that will greatly expand the  criteria for the Alternative Enforcement Program  (AEP). The innovative legislation establishing the AEP – the New York City Safe Housing Law – has effectively identified and improved residential housing conditions in some of the city’s worst buildings. Since it was first passed, New York families have benefited from the substantial improvements that resulted from the Safe Housing Law. The proposed expansions will now specifically designate asthma triggers, including mold conditions and vermin infestation, as conditions mandating improvement and will both increase the number of housing units that are captured by the law and will identify new conditions requiring improvement.

“In the past two years, the Council has taken a hard look at how we can help New Yorkers in their current living conditions,” Speaker Christine C. Quinn said. “This is a piece of legislation that I am so proud to stand behind. This legislation has the ability to fight the known asthma triggers that live inside our apartments and homes and can improve the living conditions of thousands of New Yorkers. I want to thank Council Members Rosie Mendez, Leticia James, and Gale Brewer for all their work on this. Also want to thank HPD Commissioner Rafael Cestero for his future work on this, and the advocate groups Make the Road NY, Urban Justice Center and Fifth Avenue Committee for bringing this to our attention.”

In 2007, the City Council passed groundbreaking legislation that took a targeted approach at improving the worst living conditions for New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs. Aimed at increasing the pressure on the owners of some of the City’s most distressed residential buildings to bring the buildings up to code, the AEP focuses on the 200 properties that generate a disproportionate percentage of HPD’s current enforcement activity. Landlords are put on notice that comprehensive repairs must be made. If they are not, HPD is authorized to undertake a thorough cellar to roof review of the building, make the necessary repairs, and to bill the landlord for that work. After repairs are made, ongoing monitoring ensures that buildings do not fall back into disrepair and that necessary maintenance is made by the landlord.

“Through the Alternative Enforcement Program, HPD works to protect tenants and improve neighborhoods by holding landlords directly accountable for hazardous and deplorable conditions. The bill being introduced today by the Council improves the program by allowing us to target resources to the most distressed buildings" said HPD Commissioner Rafael Cestero. “I thank Speaker Quinn and the Council for their leadership and collaboration in crafting legislation that continues to put the best interests of the tenants at the forefront and enhances the efficiency of this valuable program. This program could not be successful without the dedicated inspectors and maintenance crews at HPD who are on the job 24/7 ensuring that the concerns of New York’s tenants are heard and acted upon.”

The current law captures over 1,000 units in the 200 identified buildings every year. Under the expanded legislation, the criteria for selection will be updated to include a greater number of buildings with 20 or more units. These changes will double the number of units identified for improvements, to a total of nearly 3,000. Thousands more New Yorkers will now benefit from the legally mandated housing improvements required by this law.

The legislation amends AEP’s discharge criteria to allow buildings to be discharged from the program where owners have entered into payment agreements and have met the necessary criteria for correction of violations. Previously building owners were required to reimburse all AEP fees in one lump sum payment. This change will prevent the City from accruing extra costs while buildings sit in the program, allow for the collection of fees in a timely manner, and allow owners to focus on maintaining their property rather than paying down mounting fees.

"With this legislation, we acknowledge that mold and rodent infestation, housing violations that make a major contribution to the asthma epidemic in New York City, are just as serious as other major code infractions,” said Council Member Rosie Mendez, Chair of the Public Housing Committee and co-sponsor of the bill. “I am very pleased that we will expand the Safe Housing Act to include these asthma triggers, so we can better understand their real impact on families that live in substandard housing."

"Numerous buildings exist in New York City with dangerous conditions, which house thousands of tenants made up mostly of low-income families,” said Council Member Letitia James, co-sponsor of the bill. “The Safe Housing Act has overhauled how the City handles code enforcement, as well as forces landlords to pay back costs for the upgrades.  By expanding this historic legislation that I co-sponsored, the City will not only continue to repair entire building systems in chronically troubled properties, but will also double the number of units in need of repairs from past years.  Also, we will gain strength against uncooperative landlords with property issues causing health related problems, improving the quality of housing for many more thousands of New Yorkers.”

“I am very pleased that the proposed legislation will expand the Council’s ongoing efforts to strengthen housing code enforcement, which will have a direct impact on the living conditions of thousands of New Yorkers,” Council Member Gale Brewer said. “In 2005, I started the process by negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding between the Council and Mayor, establishing the Building-wide Inspection Program to target serious housing conditions in each Council District. HPD in partnership with not-for-profit community groups, conducted comprehensive building-wide inspections in as many as thirty multiple dwellings containing a maximum of four hundred dwelling units per District. I know how important it is to expand The Safe Housing Act, to bring more buildings up to code and preserve the affordable units.

“This new legislation cracks down on lawless landlords whose dangerously substandard buildings threaten the health of thousands of New York City families’ everyday,” said Andrew Friedman, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “Asthma is epidemic in low-income communities of color throughout our city, and this bill is an important step toward ending the impunity that is literally taking our children’s breath away.”

“The modification of the Safe Housing Act allows the city to use the best techniques available to reduce incidents of mold and vermin to improve the indoor housing conditions for low income new Yorkers all over the city.  We applaud the city in its groundbreaking efforts,” said Harvey Epstein, Director of Community Development at the Urban Justice Center.

“Our tenant advocates assist hundreds of families each year who face poor housing conditions and we have long been aware that mold, mice, and roach infestations can make people with Asthma very sick,” said Michelle de la Uz, Fifth Avenue Committee’s Executive Director. “This legislation is a step in the right direction to fight the asthma epidemic that disproportionally impacts low-income African-Americans and Latinos.”