Tenants forced out of their apartments owing to landlord negligence may soon get a reprieve. Council Member Margaret Chin has introduced legislation that would require unscrupulous landlords whose buildings are hit with a vacate order to foot the bill to temporarily relocate building tenants.
The legislation, which was first introduced in 2014, would require landlords to cover relocation expenses by depositing funds into an escrow account that’s equal to at least 10 percent of the building’s rent roll for the five years leading up to the vacate order.
“Tenants who pay their rent every month should not have to pay for the consequences of negligence by irresponsible landlords,” said Council Member Chin in a prepared statement. Chin’s legislation, co-sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, would apply to landlords with a demonstrated history of negligence rather than all landlords.
Its reintroduction is being pinned to the vacate order placed on 85 Bowery earlier this month owing to an unstable stairwell. All 13 apartments in the building and their reported 75 inhabitants were ordered to vacate. Building landlord Joseph Betesh has been decried as a slumlord for years by building tenants, who claim that Betesh has let the building deteriorate so he can eventually remove tenants, repair the building, and increase its rents.
In May of 2016 the tenants reached a deal with Betesh in court that would temporarily relocate the tenants as improvements were made to the building, under the agreement that the tenants would receive long-term, rent-stabilized leases upon their return. That deal, brokered by Public Advocate Letitia James, fell apart when James withdrew from representing the tenants in June 2016, citing irreconcilable differences after many of the tenants refused to leave the building for repairs.
A judge ordered the inspection that led to the vacate order in January, the Daily News reported at the time. Betesh was given two weeks—until today—to replace the staircase, but he notified DOB officials last week that the deadline wouldn’t be met. In the interim, many building tenants are living in a hotel in Brooklyn.
By requiring landlords to foot the bill for relocation costs, Chin’s proposed legislation would put pressure on landlords to finish repair work more quickly while helping to provide tenants with the choice of staying closer to their schools and workplaces. Council Member Chin was recently appointed to City Council’s Housing and Building Committee, which will now likely consider the bill.