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City seeks to crack down on ‘bad landlords’ who abuse vacate orders

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The bill aims to crack down on unscrupulous landlords

A row of red-brick apartment buildings on a street in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
A row of apartment buildings in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Max Touhey

The City Council passed a bill Wednesday that cracks down on unscrupulous landlords by making it easier for the city to recoup the costs of relocating tenants when they are forced out by unsafe conditions.

Lower Manhattan councilmember Margaret Chin, who resurrected the bill after it initially stalled under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, says that vacate orders are used by savvy landlords who allow their buildings to fall into disrepair or create hazardous conditions. This forces the city to step in and issue a vacate order until repairs are made.

Tenants are then faced with a dilemma: find a new home, or surf around friends’ and relatives’ homes indefinitely while waiting for their building to be habitable again. Those who don’t have the means to find temporary lodging will find themselves in the city’s shelter system. But Chin’s bill aims to discourage that practice by making it easier for the city to force landlords to cough up the funds to relocate renters.

“This bill will ease the burden on displaced families,” Chin said during the council’s Housing and Building committee vote on the bill earlier in the day. “As our city continues to face an unprecedented affordability crisis, we have to work creatively and aggressively to hold negligent landlords accountable and breakdown the pipeline to the shelter system.”

Under the bill, a “first-of-its-kind system” for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to recover relocation costs will be created. This mechanism will enable the housing agency to place a high-priority tax lien on the properties of serial “bad landlords.”

Previous iterations of the bill looked to place 10 percent of a building’s rent rolls from a five-year period into an escrow account that the city would have drawn on to fund relocation costs, but was scrapped in favor of the new system.

HPD is currently allowed to recover the costs of relocating tenants from landlords; Chin’s bill seeks to strengthen the mechanism for which the agency does so. Chin charges that the legislation will also incentivize landlords to complete the required work faster, as to incur less costs now that it’s easier for the city to reach into their wallets, so that tenants can return to their homes faster.

“No longer can landlords take a backseat to the suffering they have caused to tenants displaced by a vacate order,” said Chin.

Correction: This piece has been updated to reflect the legislation’s most recent language.