Report: Big Real Estate Against City Council Tenant Advocate Bill that would Curb Construction as Harassment
Last week, the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings considered more than a dozen tenant-friendly bills that would provide protection from landlord harassment. Yet, one in particular, code-named Intro. 1523, drew the most attention, as it would carve out a new position within the Department of Buildings with the purpose of weighing tenants’ welfare while considering the issuance of construction permits. Not surprisingly, the real estate industry and Mayor are against the push.
Introduced by Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal in March, the goal of Intro. 1523 is to operate an Office of the Tenant Advocate, charged with monitoring overall safety during construction. According to the Gotham Gazette, though, the proposed team would “receive and redress complaints from tenants and would be required to publish quarterly reports on its work, including data on the number of complaints received, time taken to respond to complaints, and the number of tenant protection and site safety plans reviewed.”
Rosenthal, a Democrat from the Upper West Side, said the OTA is a crucial tool to fight tenant harassment by landlords, particularly those who may use legally approved construction work to continually hassle and drive out rent-stabilized tenants. “Dealing with building owners who operate unscrupulously can be a Sisyphean task,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview, “and having more eyes on the ball can only help. Having an office or deputy commissioner on equal footing with other deputy commissioners at DOB will allow tenant voices to be heard.”
But her bill received push back from the de Blasio administration as well as the real estate industry, both of which argue that the OTA would be redundant. “While we generally support the bills discussed at yesterday’s hearing, we’re concerned that this particular legislation would duplicate work the Department already performs,” said Joseph Soldevere, a DOB spokesperson, in an email.
Opposition is already entrenched. The ever-powerful Real Estate Board of New York reportedly filed a legislative memo with the City Council. “The creation of the Office of the Tenant Advocate within DOB might be a worthy endeavor,” it reads, “if the Office is devoted not only to protecting the interests of the tenant during construction, but also to assisting tenants with their responsibilities during such times.” It further argues that there would be redundancy with existing DOB units.