- REAL ESTATE EDUCATION
- GIVING BACK
The Real Estate Board of New York to The New York City Council Housing & Buildings Committee
September 13, 2021
The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association. Founded in 1896, REBNY represents commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. REBNY strongly supports policies that expand the local economy, grow, and improve the City’s housing stock and create greater opportunities for all New Yorkers. Thank you to the City Council for the opportunity to testify on this important legislation.
BILL: Int 1817-2019
SUBJECT: This bill would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”) to promulgate certain minimum rules governing affordable housing lotteries.
SPONSORS: Council Members Cumbo, Barron, Cornegy and Kallos
Intro 1817 would establish new rules for housing lotteries including that HPD must ensure that applicants for affordable housing receive written notification stating whether they are accepted or rejected for occupancy in an affordable housing unit, be given sufficient time and information to respond to developers’ requests for information and to appeal a rejection and be made aware of community-based service providers that may assist the applicant. The legislation also establishes that applicants may file a complaint with HPD or the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC), as applicable, if they believe their application was rejected in error. The bill also proposes that HPD provide guidance to developers regarding information it may consider in selecting applicants, specifically prohibiting developers from considering photographs of an applicant’s current living situation or minor children’s report cards, prohibiting developers from rejecting applicants based solely on credit score, and requiring developers consider all sources of an applicant’s income. Finally, the bill establishes that HPD will provide developers training regarding applicant selection and maintain a compliance hotline for use by developers.
REBNY appreciates the Council’s continued focus on NYC Housing Connect and affordable housing lotteries and welcomes opportunities to work together to further fair housing and housing access. This is particularly relevant considering New York City has an ongoing affordable housing crisis.
However, REBNY believes that Intro 1817 could have the unintended consequence of making the housing lottery process more rigid and arduous and will only postpone the renting of desperately needed affordable housing units. Specifically, the requirement that marketing agents provide every applicant written notification if selected or not, as well as the requirement to send copies of these notices to HPD and HDC are burdensome, unnecessary, and costly. Currently, marketing agents are already required to provide notice to applicants who submit paper applications and the new NYC Housing Connect system automatically notifies applicants. These requirements, in combination with an over 30-day appeal process, would be administratively burdensome, and the appeals process extension likely would lead to available affordable units being left vacant for an unnecessarily lengthy period as that process unfolds.
Furthermore, much of what is called for in this legislation is already required under HPD’s existing fair housing rules, particularly as it relates to privacy, credit history and source of income discrimination. REBNY asks that the Council consider how this legislation interacts with and is duplicative of existing law. REBNY also suggests that the Council remove vagaries in the law that request marketing agents provide information to tenants regarding community-based service providers, without elucidating specifically which type of information they are intending to make more available to housing applicants.
Notwithstanding these concerns, Intro 1817 does provide certain sensible solutions to problems those familiar with affordable housing lotteries may have experienced. One sensible idea is the establishment of a compliance hotline for the purpose of providing information and guidance to marketing agents. Another is ensuring that marketing agents attend and receive sufficient in-person or online training regarding the resident selection process for housing units.
As REBNY and its members engage everyday with applicants of housing lotteries across the city, we look forward to continuing to discuss this legislation with the Council in the hope that we can continue to create affordable housing access opportunities for New Yorkers.
BILL: Int 2259-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would extend the December 31, 2021, inspection deadline for buildings in CD 2, 5, 7, 13, and 18 in all boroughs until June 30, 2022. The bill provides that for such buildings inspected between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021, the certification of correction may be submitted later than 120 days or later than 180 days following the inspection date, as applicable, but no later than June 30, 2022. This bill would also require DOB to conduct targeted outreach regarding complying with the requirements of Local Law 152 of 2016.
SPONSORS: Council Member Cornegy
BILL: Int 2321-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would create a hardship program that would allow a building owner, who is unable to timely comply with the inspection due to the inspection due, to apply to a hardship program. Upon acceptance to this hardship program, the property owner will receive a deferral of the due date for the inspection, and all associated due dates, for 90 days. If the property owner does not complete the inspection within that 90-day period, the property owner will be responsible for all noncompliance penalties. This bill also requires the DOB commissioner to conduct outreach to buildings with gas piping systems that must be inspected six months before the associated due dates.
SPONSORS: Council Members Cornegy, Yeger, Gennaro
BILL: Int 2361-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would require DOB to create a questionnaire that could be shared with stakeholders and members of the public. Through this questionnaire, DOB could seek feedback on Local Law 152. Starting on March 1, 2022, and on every following March 1, DOB would be required to report to the Council, the Mayor, and post on its website the results of the questionnaires received during the prior calendar year.
SPONSORS: Council Members Cornegy and Yeger
In 2016, Local Law 152-2016 (LL 152) was enacted. The Local Law requires that gas piping systems in all buildings, except for buildings classified in occupancy group R-3, must be inspected by a Licensed Master Plumber (LMP), or a qualified individual working under the direct and continuing supervision of a LMP, at least once every four years according to a schedule established by DOB.
If an inspection reveals any unsafe or hazardous condition(s), the licensed master plumber must immediately notify the building owner, the utility providing gas service to the building, and the Department. The building owner must take immediate action to correct the condition(s) in compliance with the New York City Construction Codes and any required permits.
Late last year, the Council passed Intro 2151-2020 which delayed the inspection deadline six months until June 30, 2021. Moreover, it provided buildings inspected between September 1 and December 31, 2020, with additional time to remediate any issues and submit the certification of correction up to 180 days after building’s inspection date.
Despite the delay enacted last year, it is still readily apparent that many property owners, particularly small property owners, are having trouble with compliance. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the industry in many respects, including scheduling the required inspections as well as hiring the qualified labor to remediate any issues found.
REBNY supports Intro 2259, Intro 2321, and Intro 2361. An additional extension for compliance, the establishment of a hardship program, and the gathering of additional data regarding potential hardship will allow for owners, particularly small owners, or homeowners, to ultimately comply without facing unnecessary penalties from the city. Of course, safety around gas connections and gas piping should be of utmost priority, and REBNY stands ready to work with the Council and DOB to best educate and assist in ensuring gas inspections take place as quickly as possible.
BILL: Int 2377-2021
SUBJECT: Currently, inspections conducted under Local Law 152 include exposed gas lines from point of entry up to individual tenant spaces. This bill extends the physical scope of inspection from individual tenant spaces to the point of connection for any equipment that uses gas supplied by gas piping.
SPONSORS: Council Members Cornegy and Holden
Intro 2377 also intends to provide clarity to LL 152 by better defining the scope that would be required for inspections and provides that inspections shall be required to the point of connection for any equipment that utilizes gas.
While REBNY appreciates the Council’s intent to alleviate ambiguity surrounding LL152 to better ensure compliance, the scope as defined in this legislation unfortunately creates a process that now becomes much more costly and difficult to implement. The proposed legislation as written would require entrance into residents’ homes in order to facilitate inspections. Residents, however, are under no obligation to grant access to their units, and for those that do permit access for the inspections will have to be coordinated and timed for their convenience, which would be very time intensive and costly in that it will require longer contracting for inspectors. Moreover, the installation of gas equipment in coops and condos is not controlled by the building management but rather that shareholder or unit owner. Expanding the scope of LL152 to cover in-unit equipment creates questions about responsibility in the context of coops and condos. In addition, in rent stabilized units, all inspections require at least five days’ notice and must be arranged at the mutual convenience of the owner and tenant, which also poses compliance challenges.
REBNY believes that it was never the Council’s intent to require this type of access and therefore recommends that Intro 2377 is amended to provide additional clarity to the work scope. It should be definitively established that all individual residential dwelling units that do not contain the point of entry into the building shall be exempt from the requirement to conduct these inspections, greatly alleviating the challenges that multifamily building owners would face to attain compliance under LL 152.
BILL: Int 2262-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would no longer require certain final inspections for temporary construction equipment, such as scaffolding, which would streamline the sign-off process for permits issued in connection with such equipment. It would also prohibit the installation and use of stand-off brackets, which the Department of Buildings has identified as a contributing factor in suspended scaffolding incidents.
SPONSORS: Council Members Cornegy, Kallos (by request of the mayor)
Intro 2262-2021, according to DOB, builds upon a 2019 Buildings Bulletin which prohibited the use of stand-off brackets for C-hook suspended scaffold installations, by making that prohibition permanent. REBNY supports this legislation. Ensuring that temporary equipment, including scaffolding, is safe for both construction workers and the public should always be a priority. This is particularly true for more complex installations like suspended scaffolding.
BILL: Int 2263-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would lower the threshold for a major building construction site to include construction sites that involve existing or proposed buildings 7 or more stories or 75 feet or more in height. This change would trigger additional site safety requirements for more construction sites.
SPONSOR: Council Member Cornegy (by request of the mayor)
Intro 2263-2021 proposes dropping the threshold to require full-time DOB-Licensed Site Safety Coordinators (SSCs) or Site Safety Managers (SSMs) to seven stories and above, from the current ten stories and above. The bill also requires contractors to submit Site Safety Plans to DOB for review and approval before work on major projects in the seven to nine story range can commence.
REBNY broadly supports this legislation and believes that lowering the threshold could help to decrease safety incidents on smaller construction sites. However, it may behoove the Council to take into consideration how these additional costs could impact affordable housing construction.
According to the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), on average, full-time site superintendents, safety managers and safety coordinators for a two-year construction project are estimated to cost an additional $500,000 for a seven to nine story building. This could result in more subsidies from the city being required to cover cost or could potentially result in fewer units of affordable housing. Furthermore, there currently is a shortage of site safety professionals, potentially driving up costs further.
To potentially solve this issue, the Council could consider a multi-year phase-in to allow for hiring and training of additional Site Safety Coordinators or Site Safety Managers, particularly to let the current shortage of personnel subside. Additionally, the Council could also consider allowing for a full-time construction superintendent with an SSM/SSC licensure to only be required when a building reaches 7 stories and not prior to help alleviate costs. Finally, the Council could also consider allowing higher licensed supervisors (construction superintendent or site safety managers) to act in dual roles on affordable housing sites, again lowering costs while still increasing accountability around safety.
BILL: Int 2264-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would amend certain existing requirements and establish new requirements for the use of cold-formed steel light-frame construction. This bill would amend special inspection requirements for the use of such construction. It would also create new requirements for the installation of cold-formed steel light-frame construction, the installation of decking on cold-formed steel light-frame construction, and the use of such framing and decking during construction and demolition.
SPONSOR: Council Member Cornegy (by request of the mayor)
Intro 2264-2021, according to DOB, builds upon a 2019 Buildings Bulletin in creating new safety requirements for special inspectors, construction superintendents, design professionals, and permit holders who are performing cold-formed steel light-frame construction work in New York City. This legislation is aimed at preventing the overloading and improper installation of cold-formed steel, which have previously resulted in injuries, fatalities, and property damage at construction sites in New York City.
REBNY supports this legislation. Clear and proper requirements that take into consideration the expertise of design professionals, engineers, and inspectors before, during and after erection are important, particularly as it pertains to structural materials like cold-formed steel. We stand ready to work with DOB to implement these requirements if this legislation is to pass.
BILL: Int 2265-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would amend the Housing Maintenance Code by requiring owners of units in multiple dwellings to provide to tenants the option of either permanent stove safety knobs with integrated locking mechanisms or stove knob covers for each knob located on the front of each gas-powered stove.
SPONSOR: Council Members Cumbo, Chin, Kallos, Louis and Rivera
Local Law 118 of 2017 requires owners of dwelling units to provide stove knob covers on each gas-powered stove in an apartment where a child under six resides. As is the case with any initiative that aims to strengthen fire safety, since the implementation of LL 118, REBNY and its members have worked to ensure compliance to the greatest extent possible.
While expanding options for compliance to benefit the utility or aesthetic of an appliance without compromising safety is merit able, REBNY believes that more time is needed to better understand how the cost, installation complexity and maintenance of an integrated locking mechanism for a stovetop compares to the stove knob covers widely used today. In addition, if it is found that integrated locking mechanisms take longer to install, it may prohibit the ability for an owner to meet the obligations in the timeframe outlined in Local Law 118.
With this said, we look forward to continuing the conversation with the Council to further opportunities for compliance as outlined in Intro 2265 if it is found to be a practical alternative to existing requirements.
BILL: Int 2276-2021
SUBJECT: This bill seeks to build on efforts to reduce construction-related injuries and fatalities by requiring additional site safety supervision at major building construction sites. Such sites would be required to designate a full time Construction Superintendent, who would be responsible for safety and code compliance, along with overall management of the construction project, in addition to a Site Safety Coordinator or Site Safety Manager.
SPONSOR: Council Member Moya (by request of the mayor)
Intro 2276-2021 states that DOB-Licensed Construction Superintendents would be required to serve full-time alongside Site-Safety Coordinators (SSC) or Site Safety Managers (SSM) at major construction projects starting at seven stories and above and assume responsibility for site safety and overall management of the construction project.
The bill also limits the number of non-major construction projects for which a Construction Superintendent may be designated, with the goal of having a dedicated Construction Superintendent at non-major construction projects for which they are required by 2026.
REBNY broadly supports this legislation, however the Council must take into consideration practical implications relative to the day-to-day realities of a jobsite and its workforce, for example, in instances in which a superintendent is absent, sick, or otherwise unavailable. In these instances, the Council could include a provision where a “competent person”, which is the requirement today, can fill in for the Construction Superintendent on a temporary or part-time basis. This would alleviate issues for smaller sites or organizations in which superintendent personnel may be few and far between, thus avoiding a site having to shut down in the absence of the regular superintendent.
In addition, REBNY believes that while an individual should not be able to serve as both a superintendent and an SSM/SSC on the same site simultaneously, an individual should be able to hold both licenses concurrently. This allows construction professionals to only further their own marketability, skill sets and expertise instead of unnecessarily limiting an individual to either a superintendent or site safety trajectory. This also would help to alleviate personnel shortages that currently are driving up costs for smaller sites around site safety.
BILL: Int 2278-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would require general contractors to be licensed by the Department of Buildings (DOB) in a manner like how other trades are licensed under DOB and would prohibit any person from performing general contractor work unless approved by DOB. Applicants for permits from DOB must be licensed general contractors who are “designees” of approved general contracting businesses or, with respect to work performed by city agencies, the “designees” of such agencies. This bill would require applicants for a general contractor license from DOB to meet certain qualifications, including, but not limited to, possessing a valid Site Safety Training Supervisor Card.
SPONSOR: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Members Koslowitz, Holden, and Chin (at the behest of the mayor)
REBNY has significant concerns with Intro 2278 as currently written. While general contractor licenses in other municipalities are successful, the proposal for licensure as outlined in Intro 2278 is a one-size fits all model that assumes that all general contractors are smaller outfits with only a handful of construction sites simultaneously. This could not be further from the truth.
The crux of the largest concern with Intro 2278 is grounded in the issue that a license would be tied to a single individual in most instances per firm. As some of the largest construction management firms often operate as general contractors across dozens of sites simultaneously, it would be impossible for the single license holder per firm to meet the supervisory obligations of the license, which in part require an intimate understanding of the on-the-ground situation of each site daily. In addition, Intro 2278 as written fails to establish specific tasks or obligations for the license holder, leaving compliance ambiguous as it pertains to his or her actual responsibilities.
At the same time, REBNY appreciates the general importance of this issue. As such, REBNY suggests that the Council allow for construction management or general contractor companies to have multiple license designees based on the number of projects they supervise. It should also be allowed for the designee to be in the position of making safety decisions for a project site instead of an executive who often is not engaged with individual projects daily. Facilitating this type of licensure scheme in lieu of the current proposal could alleviate potential compliance concerns while better achieving what REBNY believes is the overarching goal of identifying additional opportunities for safety supervision and code compliance across all construction sites. REBNY encourages the Council to seriously consider these suggestions.
BILL: Int 2309-2021
SUBJECT: This bill would require applicants seeking to rent out rooms in dwelling units, or housing accommodations within a building, for fewer than 30 consecutive days, as short-term rentals, to register annually with the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement and obtain a registration number before being permitted to rent out rooms in such a manner. Booking services would be required to obtain a registration from the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement and verify the short-term rental registration number of any accommodation before listing it on their service.
SPONSORS: Council Members Kallos, Rivera, Rosenthal, Reynoso, Gibson, Powers, Ayala, Brannan, Gennaro, Moya, Adams, Dromm and Levine
REBNY supports Intro 2309 with some recommendations, and fully stands against property owners who illegally engage in short-term rentals when these units are critically needed for the public. In addition, illegal short-term rentals create several safety and fire code issues due to the transient nature the practice promotes within residential buildings.
As short-term rental activity in Class A multiple dwellings without the host present for the duration of the stay has been illegal for over ten years in New York, REBNY members have diligently tried to help enforce this law but have been hindered from doing so because rental platforms are not required to disclose the addresses of units being rented. Requiring an individual, or “host” of a short-term rental to obtain a permit and follow specific procedures as established in Intro 2309 may deter illegal activity while also providing additional clarity for those who intend to list their units for short-term use under the parameters of current law.
With this said, REBNY believes that the bill could be strengthened. First, REBNY recommends the City allow for the creation of a rebuttable presumption allowing illegal short-term rental violations incurred by the owner be waived provided they demonstrate meeting certain good faith efforts to curb or prohibit illegal short-term rentals. These efforts could be defined as including lease terms or riders prohibiting illegal short-term rentals, providing notice to the residents of the law and their intent to enforce the law, or seeking injunctive relief from housing court. Providing such a mechanism allows owners who are aware of these activities to report violations to the city without fear of incurring fines themselves for illegal short-term rental violations by residents. Furthermore, the City should seek to penalize the party responsible for any violations associated with illegal short-term rental activity by granting the ability to pass on these fines. If a tenant is found to be the offending party, they should be subject to the penalties.
REBNY also recommends Intro 2309 be amended to allow owners to be notified when their building is posted on a listing platform to allow for greater transparency. Doing so will ensure this legislation does not disempower owners from helping to enforce the law within their own buildings while allowing the city greater effectiveness in identifying those, both owners and residents, who are breaking the law. Additionally, the City should seek to work with property owners by providing regular notifications when their buildings have been used inappropriately.
In addition, REBNY recommends the city require listing platforms to allow building owners to “opt out” of their services and prohibit residents from listing units in those buildings. Listing platforms with this information should be required to remove any units provided by these self-reported buildings and should face penalties for noncompliance. REBNY appreciates the opportunity to provide feedback and is hopeful the city finally moves forward on these recommendations which will only strengthen enforcement of short-term rentals.
SUBJECT: This bill would extend the certification of no harassment pilot created by Local Law of 2018 until September 27, 2026. Buildings where an Article 7-A administrator has been appointed, buildings where the department of buildings has determined there has been a failure to comply with any term of a tenant protection plan, buildings included on the speculation watch list, and buildings in any community district determined to be at a high risk for displacement by the equitable development data tool would be required to apply for the CONH for covered work. The Building Qualification Index (BQI) would be updated to include open and closed hazardous and immediately hazardous violations issued by the department of health and mental hygiene or department of buildings.
SPONSORS: Council Member Lander
In 2018, 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 developed a building qualification index. Buildings within these community boards that are identified by the building qualification index 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.
In general, a CONH requires an investigation into whether harassment has occurred during a prescribed period and is triggered when an owner makes a permit application to the Department of Buildings for a material alteration of a building. Prior to the pilot program, CONH requirements applied only to single room occupancy buildings and to all buildings in select special purpose zoning districts under the Zoning Resolution.
The pilot program established was enacted to stay into effect for 36 months and is slated to expire on October 2, 2021. T2021-7888 intends to extend the pilot until September 27, 2026. The legislation also expands the pilot to include buildings where an Article 7-A administrator has been appointed, buildings where the department of buildings has determined there has been a failure to comply with any term of a tenant protection plan, buildings included on the speculation watch list, and buildings in any community district determined to be at a high risk for displacement by the equitable development data tool recently implemented by the city.
REBNY stands with the Council in unequivocally condemning tenant harassment of any kind. Since the implementation of the pilot program, REBNY has continued to work with this Council, our members, and other stakeholders to work to prevent tenant harassment of any kind. With this said, it behooves the City Council to ensure that any expansion of a pilot program is first reviewed holistically to ensure that the program indeed is protecting tenants, protecting good-faith actors aiming to complete construction to the benefit of tenants, and is supported by city and agency resources that allow for timely investigations and resolutions. REBNY stands ready to assist the Council in determining what can be done to strengthen this effort.
Thank you for the consideration of these points.