Landlords won’t be able to obtain permits for major building work anymore if they are known to harass tenants. Last Thursday, November 31, legislation passed requiring certain buildings in NYC to apply for a Certification of No Harassment (CONH) in order to be demolished or altered. A three-year pilot program has been initiated in 11 community districts that have displayed a high level of tenant distress. Residential buildings in these areas will have to apply for a CONH to carry out covered work.
Local Law 19 of 1983 and the NYC Housing Maintenance Code lay down the rules and boundaries of what can constitute tenant harassment. It is when an owner threatens or forces occupants to vacate, surrender, or waive rights with the unit. This can include the interruption of essential services that cause interference with the tenants or makes them leave, changing door locks, or not making important repairs. Tenants are able to seek legal assistance when they’ve been treated like this, and can contact the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force (THPT) at THPT@hpd.nyc.gov.
Which Buildings are Now Affected?
Buildings must get a CONH for covered work if they:
- Have received a Full Vacate Order Are under an HPD Alternate Enforcement Program (AEP)
- Are located in an area that has gone through city-sponsored neighborhood-wide rezoning
- Are located in the following community districts: Bx4 (Highbridge/Grand Concourse), Bx5 (Tremont/Fordham), Bx7 (Kingsbridge Heights/Norwood), BK3 (Bed Stuy), BK4 (Bushwick), BK5 (East NY), BK16 (Brownsville), MN9 (Morningside Heights/Columbia), MN11 ( East Harlem), MN12 (Washington Heights), QNS14 (Far Rockaway) [you can check your community district here by typing in an address]
Building owners who have been found guilty of harassment in court in the past five years will be automatically be denied a CONH.
Obtaining a CONH for Covered Buildings
- Tenants, community groups, the community board, and elected officials are notified when a building owner applies for a CONH.
- The HPD starts an investigation that lasts for 36 months regarding harassment. Current and former tenants are asked about their experiences. If no evidence against them has been found, the CONH will be granted.
- If evidence has been found, the landlord will have to have an ECB trial. If the judge rules that no harassment took place, the CONH will be granted.
If a landlord or building owner has unlawfully harassed a tenant, major permits will not be granted to them for five years. Performing work without necessary permits renders violation fees 14 times the original permit fee.
The only way to gain these permits after being found guilty at the hearing is through a Cure Agreement. The floor area of 20% of a new building or 25% of an existing building being updated needs to be for permanent affordable housing. A third of these units should be for 40% of the area median income (AMI), a third for 50% of the AMI, and a third for 60% of the AMI.
If a landlord needs the work done, then low-income families will have a chance at housing priced towards their needs. These units must be over any requirements of 421-a tax incentives, mandatory inclusionary housing, or any other public subsidy programs. This ensures that the owners aren’t just implementing this to get any benefits or tax breaks. Treating tenants with fairness and equality will ensure that the work you’ve planned to do will be able to get done.
How can Construction Work be Harmful to Tenants?
Conducting hazardous work can be used as a tactic as a way of driving rent-stabilized tenants out of a building. Once former tenants are out, the rent can be hiked up for the next people residing in a unit. Noise, toxic fumes, excessive dust and debris, and blocked fire escapes are all various hazards that negatively affect tenants. These things can degrade their morale and health, and make it more likely for tenants to move out. Offering buyout before performing such work without prior announcement of it is illegal, and counts as harassment.
With this new law helping to ensure that landlords don’t threaten or coerce their tenants into leaving so that they can make a bigger profit, there is less of an incentive to perform invasive work.