New York City Legislative Year in Review

Earlier this month, nearly a dozen new members of the New York City Council took office and the legislature selected a new leader.

We congratulate the council and we look forward to working with Speaker Corey Johnson and his City Council colleagues. We must work together to address the critical challenges our City faces, including the continued need to build more housing to meet demand at all income levels in every neighborhood and create more good jobs.

The City Council’s 2014-2017 session came to a conclusion in December. Several pieces of legislation were passed that impact the real estate industry and are summarized below:

Landlord-Tenant Relationships

The Council passed 18 tenant safety and anti-harassment laws. Some of the most notable protections include assigning representation to every low-income New Yorker facing eviction and establishing an office of the tenant advocate within the Department of Buildings. A substantial number of these bills expanded the City’s current definition of what constitutes harassment to include contacting a tenant at unusual hours, repeated failures to correct hazardous or immediately hazardous building code violations, or false certification of approved permitted work as forms of harassment.

Most importantly, the Council created the rebuttable presumption of harassment upon the landlord in any court proceeding alleging tenant harassment. This effectively turns the widely-accepted principle of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head by requiring the landlord to assert why their alleged behavior does not constitute harassment, regardless of whether or not the act was intended to harass or cause a vacancy. Coupled with another law, owners would be required to pay the tenant’s attorney’s fees, as well as compensatory and punitive damages if a court rules against them.

The City Council enacted a Certificate of No Harassment (CONH) Pilot Program that would apply to 11 Community Boards throughout the city (three in Manhattan and the Bronx, four in Brooklyn, and one in Queens) where they think tenant harassment is more likely to occur.  As part of this program, HPD has been developing a building qualification index.  Buildings within these community boards that are identified by the building qualification index would need to receive a CONH before they could receive a building permit for substantial renovation or demolition.  Other areas to be covered by the pilot program are areas subject to a city-sponsored neighborhood rezoning.  The pilot program is for three years.

Building Energy Grades

The Council passed a bill requiring buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to post letter grade scores associated with the building’s Energy Star score in a prominent location in the lobby. We appreciate the bill’s intention to promote energy awareness, but its approach is overly simplistic and misleading.  Energy Star scoring takes into account multiple building data points to perform a complicated regression analysis in arriving at a score that reflects how the building is performing as a whole: its assets, its operations, and how the people inside use it. Each point score along the 1 to100 scale is individually meaningful. According to Energy Star, a score of 50 represents median energy performance while a score of 75 or more indicates a top performer. However, a top performer in Energy Star’s estimation would only receive a “B” under the bill’s misleading grading system. 

Construction Safety

Following up on its requirement of mandatory training for all construction workers, the Council focused on enacting two other provisions of the Construction Safety Act for a total of 21 bills. The two bills that the Council passed in December focus on permit holders.  One law doubles the violation fines for the top ten percent of the worst construction sites as defined by those with the most violations. Another law will impose fines of up to $500,000 for violations that are associated with a worker’s physical injury or death.

In 2018, REBNY will continue to testify, offer the insights and experience of our members, and participate in discussions towards creating sound public policy.