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City Council unveils 18 bills aimed at protecting NYC tenants

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The package of 18 bills seeks to stem tenant harassment and displacement

With New York’s rent stabilization laws set to expire next year, all eyes are on the state legislature and how it plans to amend (or, perhaps, abolish) the rules that are currently in place. But in the meantime, the New York City Council is taking steps to protect rent-regulated tenants from harassment, displacement, and other unscrupulous practices from landlords.

The council will introduce 18 different bills today, sponsored by a number of its members, that aim to address various issues faced by rent-regulated tenants—harassment via construction, a lack of transparency around the history of rent-stabilized apartments, lax oversight on the part of the Department of Buildings, and more.

“We’re in a crisis,” City Council member Robert Cornegy, the chair of the council’s housing committee (and a sponsor of three of the bills), told the New York Times. “I think this package of bills really closes some of the worst loopholes we have.”

Many of the loopholes in the rent-stabilization laws that are frequently cited by tenant advocates—like preferential rent or vacancy decontrol—would have to be changed at the state level. But the city can address issues that come up through its own agencies; several of the bills would hold the Department of Buildings accountable for issues that arise from a lack of oversight on its part, such as landlords falsifying information on building permits. (This is a pervasive issue, and is sporadically enforced—earlier this year, for instance, the DOB hit Kushner Companies with a more than $200,000 fine for misrepresenting the status of rent-regulated units in several of its apartment buildings, in order to illegally perform construction work.)

Others would put the onus on landlords, including a bill that would require tenants in rent-stabilized apartments be provided with the history of their unit going back four years. But ultimately, the bill package is meant to give tenants more protections in a city where the proverbial deck often seems stacked against them.

“This package of bills is really to protect tenants,” City Council speaker Corey Johnson said during a press conference before the stated meeting.

But, the speaker noted, “we really need major action in Albany,” expressing his hope that the state legislature will take up issues like getting rid of the vacancy decontrol and major capital improvements loopholes. “We want a real tenants’ package in Albany,” Johnson said. “Our package here at the council, plus that potential package of bills at the state level, would have a major effect for tenants in rent regulated housing, and would stem the tide in losing additional rent regulated units across the city.”

Once the bills are introduced, they’ll be debated in the council and ultimately voted on; they’ll also need the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration told the Times that it is “committed to preventing displacement and fighting harassment on every front, and look forward to reviewing these bills.”

But a fight is likely to come from the real estate industry, which earlier this year fought for steep monthly increases for rent-stabilized tenants in front of the Rent Guidelines Board.