The Real Estate Board of New York to The Committee on Housing and Buildings and the Committee on Aging of the New York City Council

Ryan Monell

Vice President of Government Affairs

October 2, 2022

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Thank you for the opportunity to testify on a package of bills that focuses on protecting affordable housing for older and disabled New Yorkers and improving accessibility in the city’s housing stock.

BILL: Intro 141-2022

SUBJECT: This bill would require that certain types of new or renovated buildings have at least one power-operated or power-assisted door at an entrance and exit. It would also require signs that direct people to the power-operated or power-assisted door.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Ayala, Won, Farias and Schulman.

Intro 141 expands on an existing requirement for power-operated and power assisted doors by adding the requirement to additional Occupancy Groups, including A-5, I-1, I-2, I-3, and R-2. In addition, it would be an expansion even based on the existing Occupancy Groups where this is required because the legislation includes no thresholds associated with the requirement, which is currently the case in existing law.

While well intentioned, Intro 141 lacks clarity regarding how it aligns with current building code, particularly around means of egress and other fire prevention requirements. Specifically, the bill as written is not explicit as to whether it applies to exterior doors only, creating uncertainty if requirements would also apply to other egress access doors within the building. This lack of clarity is important to address for several reasons. First, egress doors often also serve as fire doors, and from a fire safety perspective closing doors is critical to preventing the spread of smoke and fire. Having door operators on egress access often make doors harder and slower to open and close, which could compromise a door’s ability to serve as a protective barrier in the instance of a fire or emergency.

Second, these mechanical door operators can limit door maneuverability. Door maneuverability aids in safe passage for all users at the time of an evacuation. As a result, REBNY recommends clarifying language in the legislation to consider and address these concerns.

In addition, it may not be possible or necessary for all buildings in these occupancy groups to install power operated or assisted doors to be fully accessible. In some older buildings there simply will not be the space or ability to meet such requirements. Similarly, attended buildings with doorpersons can ensure that people who need assistance entering a building are able to do so. REBNY looks forward to the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Council to ensure that any legislation appropriately balances these important concerns.

BILL: Intro 322-2022

SUBJECT: This bill would require the installation in multiple dwellings of certain protective devices for seniors and persons with disabilities that enhance mobility, safety, and the quality of life for such persons. These devices would be installed upon the request of a tenant and include such items as grabs bars in bathrooms and treads on the floors of tenants. There would be no cost to the tenant for the installation of the devices, but eligible owners would be entitled to a tax abatement for certain related installations.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Brannan, Farias, Louis, Stevens, Ung, Aviles, Abreu, Hudson, and
Richardson Jordan.

REBNY shares the Council’s concern for the safety and well-being of seniors and people with disabilities. Measures such as grab bars and safe manner treads can offer protection against risk of significant injury. Consistent with the requirements of the City’s Human Rights Law, dwelling owners already make reasonable accommodations upon request for residents with disabilities and seniors, including installing grab bars and treads. For this reason, REBNY supports this legislation and believes the inclusion of a tax abatement will encourage greater proliferation of protective measures for senior and disabled tenants.

REBNY believes the legislation could be improved in the following ways:

First, it is important to note that the installation of grab bars may not be possible in bathrooms in some existing dwelling units, especially in older buildings. This is the case because grab bars must be anchored into walls to work safely. Existing bathrooms with nonload bearing walls consisting of tile and partition framing cannot easily accommodate or properly support such equipment. Proper efforts to anchor equipment may necessitate opening walls to install reinforcement beams, incurring additional cost or exposing other issues such as lead that may require additional intervention and cost. These costs could easily exceed the value of the proposed abatement. The legislation should be modified to address situations where existing bathrooms simply cannot accommodate grab bars.

Second, to address this situation, the tax abatement should be increased to offset the full cost of such work. If the value of the abatement remains capped, the proposal should be modified to increase that cap for inflation as the proposed abatement will lose its utility over time if the cost schedule is not adjusted upward to reflect increases in the cost of labor and materials over time.

Third, property owners are already required to provide tenants with annual notices on several topics. The legislation would be improved if it clarified that owners could distribute the notices proposed in this legislation electronically or at the same time as other required notices. An addendum in a lease of a tenant’s right to request these items and a landlord’s obligations to install them would be another practical way to provide adequate notice.

Fourth, the legislation should be clarified in the context of cooperatives and condominiums . As cooperative shareholders enter a proprietary lease with the cooperative corporation, it is not clear if the legislation would require the cooperative to install these devices upon request of a shareholder. Further, the legislation should clarify that in the case of a cooperative unit that is sub-leased or condominium that is leased to a tenant that it is the obligation of the shareholder or unit owner to make such improvements rather than the cooperative board or condominium corporation.

Lastly, the legislation appropriately addresses the installation of protective devices, but it is important to clarify the entity responsible for the maintenance and or replacement of such devices as proper maintenance is essential for the safe operation of these devices. The legislation should clarify that in situations where tenants damage the equipment that it is tenant responsibility to notify the owner of the need for replacement, nor should the owner be held responsible for violating the requirements in that case. In addition, the legislation should clarify that the tax abatement may also be utilized for work related to the replacement and maintenance of such systems.

BILL: Intro 584-2022

SUBJECT: This bill would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to provide tenants with disabilities with information about legal services when such tenants are facing eviction. It would also require the Commissioner of HPD to report to the Mayor and the Speaker of the City Council on any pattern of discrimination against disabled tenants.

SPONSORS: The Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, and Councilmembers Caban, Louis, Marte, Joseph, Nurse, Gutierrez, and Hudson.

REBNY understands the Council’s concern anytime a person receives an eviction filing and shares the Council’s desire that a fair and just process be followed. For this reason, REBNY has supported the City’s Right to Counsel Law since its implementation. However, except for senior housing, property owners do not collect information about or monitor the ages or disability status of their tenants, and under the New York City’s Human Rights Law owner and broker counsel would not advise for this information to be collected at the time of a lease application. Imposing on the owners the responsibility to have real-time information about the disability of all the occupants in every dwelling unit is not practical. The physical and mental health of residents is not static and is not reported to owners as it is privileged information. Establishing a standard in which an owner or property manager must know this information creates an untenable situation where owners would need to involve themselves in the changing private health matters of their residents while simultaneously trying to maintain compliance under Local Law.

The requirements could also put owners in the position of violating New York City’s Human Rights Law which prohibits discrimination based on disability status. Consequently, it is unlikely that a property owner could comply with this legislation without exposing herself to this liability.

The City has made important strides in recent years to ensure more New Yorkers can obtain counsel in eviction proceedings. To ensure potentially vulnerable New Yorkers, including those with disabilities, have adequate protections in place, REBNY encourages the Council to ensure adequate funding in the next budget cycle to ensure all vulnerable adults have access to counsel in housing court as part of the City’s Right to Counsel law. In addition, REBNY suggests that the Council require HPD to create a simple, one-page form that could be distributed to all tenants served with an eviction proceeding notice that informs tenants of providers of legal services. REBNY and its members would support the distribution of this type of information. Such a framework would ensure that all tenants, not just seniors or those with disabilities, would know how to obtain legal assistance and empower the tenant to act, rather than waiting on the agency to reach out with support.

BILL: Intro 608-2022
SUBJECT: This bill would create an Office of Accessibility Compliance within the Department of Buildings, tasked with ensuring all submitted plans for building construction or renovation comply with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements in the Building Code, staffed with at least one registered design professional with knowledge of those requirements. This bill would also establish an annual reporting requirement on how many plans are examined and approved or rejected by the Office of Accessibility Compliance.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Ayala, Hanif, Won, Nurse, Gutierrez, Joseph, Abreu, and Sanchez.

REBNY appreciates the importance of breaking down barriers to ensure we realize the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the intent of this legislation is good, the practical implication of the proposal is concerning. As part of review for all plan filings, the Department of Buildings already reviews projects to ensure that they comply with the building code and all other relevant requirements. However, if all projects are required to be reviewed by this new office as an added step in the plan review process, it will add considerable time to the agency’s review process. Adding additional steps of review to existing processes could lead to unnecessary delays, particularly if there are limited resources and staffing levels required to turn around tens of thousands of plan reviews annually. For this reason, we would encourage the sponsors to work with the agency to identify whether greater training or resources are needed for existing plan reviewers to better focus on this topic.

BILL: Intro 676-2022

SUBJECT: In general, universal design for housing involves designing an apartment or house so that it is accessible for everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, or stature. This bill would require HPD to develop a list of universal design principles and require that a developer who receives City financial assistance incorporate universal design in at least 10 percent of dwelling units in each housing development project or housing preservation project. It would also require HPD to produce annual reports on the universal design list and universal design unit requirement, which HPD would post on its website.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Hudson, Lee, Schulman, Richardson Jordan, Louis, Sanchez,
Velazquez, Barron, Stevens, and Aviles.

City-assisted housing is already subject to a variety of laws to improve or require accessibility, including existing Local Laws, the ADA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. While REBNY supports opportunities to increase the number of housing units able to accommodate those with disabilities, it is important to ensure that additional requirements are not contradictory with existing law or the guidance that HPD already has for the design of quality apartments. In addition, it should be noted that additional requirements, regardless of their merit, will result in driving up the cost of affordable housing production.

From a practical perspective, specificity for universal design requirements will be important for the marketability of a unit. For example, countertop heights, fixtures, and other necessities to accommodate disabilities could fluctuate, or may not be suitable for those who do not need additional accommodations. As a result, this legislation and accompanying rulemaking should take into consideration those challenges to not encumber the marketability of a unit or the ability for a unit to be universally utilized.

Thank you for the consideration of these points.

Topics Covered

  • Housing