BROOKLYN – The New York City Council passed a bill on Thursday that will protect tenants from harassment from “unscrupulous” landlords looking to drive them out and cash in on their apartments.
“Unfortunately, for some unscrupulous landlords in NYC, harassing tenants out of their apartments is part of the business plan, because once a tenant is driven out, a landlord can make significant renovations, or demolish and rebuild, and then dramatically raise rents,” Council Member Brad Lander (District 39) said in a statement announcing the victory. “The Certification of No Harassment (CONH) program is a strong new tool to fight that business model.” Lander led one of the four working group committees that collaborated on developing this legislature.
CONH will require building owners planning to demolish or significantly renovate their buildings to prove that they do not have a history of harassing their tenants before they can be approved for necessary permits from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). If landlords are proven to have harassed their tenants, they will not receive these permits for five years, unless they agree to making a substantial portion of the building permanently affordable, with no public subsidy.
The program will start off as a 36-month pilot, focusing on 11 neighborhoods that have been identified as being at particular risk for harassment, including the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, and East New York.
When a landlord applies for a CONH for a particular building, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will conduct an investigation to ensure that the landlord has not harassed any former or current tenants of the building in the past five years.
If HPD determines that there is no evidence of harassment, the landlord will receive a CONH. However, if HPD determines that the landlord is guilty of harassment, the case will go through a hearing process with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).
If OATH determines that harassment did not take place, then the CONH will be granted, allowing the landlord to get the necessary DOB permits. If OATH determines that a landlord is guilty of harassment, he will be denied the CONH as well as the DOB permits for demolition and significant renovations for five years, unless the landlord commits to a “Cure Agreement” with HPD.
The “Cure Agreement” will require 20% (for a new building) or 25% (for renovation of an existing building) of the floor area to be set aside for permanent affordable housing, at an average of 50% area median income (AMI), with no public subsidies.
The CONH program has been in place in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen since 1974, but tenant advocates have been working over the years to expand the program to other neighborhoods facing rent hikes, Lander noted.
Learn more about the Certificate of No Harassment policy here.