Testimony before the Committee on Housing and Buildings of the New York City Council By Ali Ruth Davis, Chief of Staff Real Estate Board of New York

Good afternoon Chairperson Williams and members of the committee on Housing and Buildings. The Real Estate Board of New York (“REBNY”), representing over 17,000 owners, developers, managers and brokers of real property in New York City, thanks you for the opportunity to testify on the proposal relating to amending the definition of harassment to include illegal conversions of dwelling units. 

REBNY opposes illegal short-term rentals and applauds the efforts undertaken by the Council and the Administration to stop this practice, but also strongly feels that penalties must be directed at those actually responsible for causing violations.  Intro No. 688 does not take into account the illegal conversion of dwelling units by the tenants themselves, who may be using Airbnb without the knowledge or permission of the building owner or landlord. 

As currently written, this bill would allow tenants to illegally convert their residences and create a series of inconveniences for their fellow tenants (not to mention the building owner him or herself), only to have unaware owners penalized for harassment once the conversion is reported. Despite their best efforts, it is often impossible for an owner to know the status of every individual unit they own on a daily basis, and with no affirmative defense in this legislation, this bill assumes that regardless of circumstances, the owner will always be considered the guilty party. 

REBNY recommends that this bill be amended to state that all penalties for illegal conversions will be imposed upon the entity that initiated the conversion. If this bill is to achieve its well-conceived goal of discouraging illegal activity, then it must be written to hold violating parties responsible for their actions. Automatically holding building owners and landlords responsible for the actions of their tenants may actually encourage illegal conversions by tenants who know that their actions will not have legal consequences for them, which would defeat the purpose of this legislation altogether. 

With modifications to address the aforementioned concerns, REBNY would support Int. No. 688. Thank you again for the opportunity to comment, and we welcome any opportunity to work with the Council to improve this introduction.