Testimony of the Real Estate Board of New York Before the NYC Council Committee on Housing and Buildings in Relation to Vacancy Reporting Legislation

Basha Gerhards

Vice President - Policy and Planning

January 28, 2019

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The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments. REBNY appreciates the Council’s efforts to collect data on residential vacancies to further assess the needs of our housing stock.  REBNY is supportive of the Council’s aims of making informed policy decisions based on quality data. Improvements to the availability of the City’s vacancy data will allow for robust, transparent discussion on the state of our rental housing, However, REBNY encourages the Council to ensure that the additional data being collected cannot otherwise be obtained from better data sharing among City agencies or from existing sources like the NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey.

Additionally, we want to highlight our concerns with the utility of Int. No. 1128 considering the added construction redundancies of replacing one construction fence style for another and the potential adverse effect to the streetscape of doing such. We ask the Council to reconsider the intent of this proposal and whether it may be achieved through more appropriate and suitable means.

REBNY has the following specific comments to offer:

INT. NO.: 7

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to assessing the size of the city's housing stock.


The legislation requires owners of multiple dwellings or one-to-two family dwellings not used by the primary owner(s) to inform the City of the number of units within each dwelling. The legislation further requires all data collected on the number of registered units to be updated annually and published by Council district. REBNY supports efforts to improve transparency and to collect valuable new data points that could inform policy-making. Wherever possible, the Council should consider redundancies in reporting and should coordinate with the applicable City agencies to ensure they are adequately resourced to comply with this request.  

INT. NO.: 226

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to requiring the registration of owners of vacant property.

SPONSORS: Rose, Rosenthal, Koo, Kallos, Cornegy, Van Bramer, Levine, Levin, Reynoso, Constanitinides, Ayala, Chin, Williams, Gibson, Espinal, Richards, Ampry-Samuel, Holden

While REBNY supports the goal of understanding potential opportunities for affordable housing, as written, the requirements of the bill are unclear. The bill appears to require owners to register vacant property if the property has been vacant for at least one year and to renew that registration annually, regardless of whether the property is still vacant. Additionally, the bill states that if a registered vacant property is sold, the new owner must report the vacancy within 30 days of taking ownership.

While REBNY appreciates that the Council is trying to understand vacancies that are not currently reported to the City through permit filings, the legislation could stand to benefit from a clearer definition of the term vacancy. For example, a vacancy reported as a result of property that is undergoing an extensive renovation and has been subject to multiple delayed permit approvals should not be counted as vacant. Similarly, REBNY recommends that the 30 day  timeframe be extended to allow new owners sufficient time to file.

The City should collect data in the clearest and most effective way to address its policy goals. To address this, REBNY recommends the Council try to identify the underlying reasons why the property in question has been vacated. The bill should be revised to screen out those properties with outstanding requests at City agencies related to use and operation. In addition, the penalties assigned to owners for failing to carry out this mandate is far too onerous and unnecessary. Imposing such a steep recurring fine could put a severe financial strain on small owners in particular. Lastly, the legislation should provide means for owners to submit when vacancies have been filled so that owners can be removed from the annual filing obligations.

INT. NO.: 835

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to reporting the locations of vacant properties to each council member.


INT. NO.: 1125

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to reporting of foreclosing residential properties to council members.

SPONSORS: Holden, Borelli, Brannan, Ulrich, Vallone, Yeger, Gjonaj

REBNY is generally supportive of the Council’s attempts to collect more data about vacancies aggregated by Council district. Again, we recommend the Council coordinate with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) to ensure the agencies can properly fulfill this mandate. We hope the Council will use this data to make more informed and targeted housing policy decisions.

INT. NO.: 1124

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to orders to secure, seal and close.

SPONSORS: Holden, Borelli, Brannan, Ulrich, Vallone, Yeger, Gjonaj

Property that poses a serious health or safety risk to a community should be secured, but as drafted, this bill overreaches to include a broader universe of sites that do not rise to that level of concern. The legislation requires the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Buildings to begin proceedings upon the issuance of a vacate order where $25,000 or more is owed to the City. While REBNY agrees the City should collect on unpaid fines and should enforce orders to vacate a unit or property, the $25,000 threshold is too low to trigger such mandatory action. As written, the legislation authorizes proceedings the minute the threshold is reached. The legislation should be amended to allow owners the opportunity to cure violations through the Environmental Control Board (ECB) process. Again, the Council should revisit its definition of vacant properties to more effectively target properties that are not currently under construction. Additionally, the types of penalties and fines should be confined to more hazardous and severe types of violations. If, after the appropriate time has elapsed and the fine remains unpaid, the City should begin proceedings to seal, secure and close.

INT. NO.: 1128

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to fences at stalled construction sites.

SPONSORS: Holden, Borelli, Ulrich, Yeger, Gjonaj

The bill would require all wooden fences or non-chain link fences to be removed where work has been stalled or discontinued for at least two years, and if any and all hazardous construction equipment has been removed from the site. Prior to the resumption of work, the chain link must be replaced with a wood or other suitable solid material. REBNY questions the utility and overall public benefit of this legislation. Requiring the replacement of solid enclosures with chain-link fences for a short period of time is a completely unreasonable,  and costly endeavor that will yield limited public benefits. Substantive linear feet of a chain link fence creates a visual eye sore and takes away an opportunity for public art. If the intent of this proposal is to improve visibility, there are far simpler and more achievable ways to go about doing this. A far more effective and achievable requirement would be to increase the number of viewing panels required on solid enclosures. REBNY urges the Council to reconsider advancing this legislation.

REBNY looks forward to continuing to work with the City Council to effectuate productive policies that address clear and insightful policy goals. Thank you again for the opportunity to provide testimony.

Basha Gerhards
Vice President - Policy and Planning
Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY)
(212) 616-5000