Bill on tenant notification on repairs passes Council | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Bill on tenant notification on repairs passes Council

Last August, James Peterson, a tenant at 309 E. Eighth St., showed his hand after wiping it over the construction dust that was then coating his door. The East Village building is owned by Steve Croman. Tenants charge that the landlord was using construction to harass them and force them out of their rent-regulated apartments.   File photo by Zach Williams

Last August, James Peterson, a tenant at 309 E. Eighth St., showed his hand after wiping it over the construction dust that was then coating his door. The East Village building is owned by Steve Croman. Tenants charge that the landlord was using construction to harass them and force them out of their rent-regulated apartments. File photo by Zach Williams

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  bill recently passed by the City Council would require landlords to provide at least 24 hours notice before doing work that would disrupt building services, such as heat, water and electricity.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign the measure into law in the near future following a 50-to-0 vote by the Council on May 14 in favor of the legislation. The bill requires landlords to give 24 hours notice before most type of work, with a mandatory 10 days notice for major alteration work. The suspension of elevator service for more than two hours would also require a day’s notice, under the legislation.

Councilmember Rosie Mendez and Borough President Gale Brewer — the bill’s primary sponsors — said in a May 14 statement that proper notification would let tenants plan ahead of building construction, as well as figure out the intentions of their landlords in conducting work.

“Today, a wheelchair-bound tenant could leave for work in the morning and return in the evening to find the elevator offline for hours, having never heard a whisper about it,” Brewer said. “Tenants deserve fair warning and an opportunity to plan around disruptive maintenance work.”

Brewer also noted that predatory landlords often use renovation work to harass and force out rent-regulated tenants so they can increase rents. Affordable housing advocates say such practices are common in the East Village and on the Lower East Side.

Currently, tenant-protection laws do not require landlords to give such notice, creating a loophole that not only invites abuse but also dispenses with common courtesy, according to Mendez.

A Brewer spokesperson said that mayoral staff took part in navigating the bill through the Council legislative process. There have been no indications that de Blasio would not support the bill, a Mendez spokesperson said, though a date has not been set yet for when the mayor would sign the bill into law.

Services included under the legislation are any heat, hot water, cold water, gas or electricity service expected to be affected for more than two hours. Exceptions would be allowed for emergency work, with the understanding that notice subsequently be given to residents as soon as possible.

The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development would assume responsibility for enforcing the law, as well as determining applicable rules, like what form notice is given, such as English and Spanish, as well as other applicable languages. A department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

“ ‘Construction as harassment’ is a huge problem in the East Village and Lower East Side,” said Brandon Kielbasa, director of organizing for the Cooper Square Committee. “New laws, like this one, that give tenants more rights for dealing with this issue are a step in the right direction.”

He added that, with the anticipated new law in place, tenants would be better able to argue in Housing Court that their landlords were conducting work without notification in order to harass them. Kielbasa said few of the landlords he has encountered in his work currently offer tenants notification.

The noise and vibrations from renovation work are one headache for rent-regulated tenants who suspect their landlords have nefarious motives. And then there is also the construction dust that often accompanies the conversion of apartments into luxury housing. Of equal concern is the lack of advance notice to prepare for interruption of water, heat and / or electrical service. As previously reported by The Villager, these predatory landlords, for their part, have defended their work by claiming they gave prior notice to their tenants for this type of work.