Broad Support For New “Housing Quality Act” Bill That Would Empower Tenants To Bring “Underlying Conditions” Claims Against Landlords
The Mayor’s plan to preserve 120,000 units of affordable housing will require renewed focus on housing quality. , tenants from some of the city’s most troubled housing units – joined by advocates and elected officials – rallied outside City Hall to call for legislation that would give tenants the power to require landlords to fix “underlying conditions” - such as a water leak – rather than merely painting over it.
Council Members Ritchie Torres, Rafael Espinal, and Antonio Reynoso are set to introduce a bill that would expand a 2013 law that empowered HPD to bring “underlying conditions” claims. Noting that tenants are the eyes-and-ears on the ground, the new bill would extend to tenants the right to bring such claims against landlords in Housing Court. The bill is part of a broader “Housing Quality Act” package aimed at equipping tenants with the tools they need to ensure that their housing is not just affordable, but also livable.
“In housing – as in life – superficially painting over a problem is not an acceptable solution. Yet under current law, when a landlord fails to cure an underlying problem, such as a water leak, and opts instead to paint over the problem, tenants have limited options. This bill would enable tenants who deal with underlying conditions problems day in and day out, to hold their landlords accountable. This bill would help ensure that housing is not just affordable, but also livable,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.
“We have some of the highest rent rates in the country and yet too many New Yorkers are living in substandard and unsafe housing conditions," stated Council Member Rafael Espinal. "Often times, necessary work to correct the root causes would be covered up with shoddy patch repairs. This is unacceptable. This bill will give additional teeth to existing law by allowing tenants to take action in housing court and bite down on their negligent landlords to correct these substandard and unsafe housing conditions. It is my hope that this piece of legislation, when enacted, will lead to more New Yorkers living in decent and quality housing."
“Too often, landlords will do only the minimum repairs necessary to correct a violation or issue. This bill seeks to empower tenants to address conditions that lead to recurring problems but remain unaddressed. Our goal with this bill, and the other pieces of the Housing Quality Act, including the expansion of HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program and the creation of re-inspection fees for HPD inspectors, is to improve quality-of-life for all tenants,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso.
“This bill gives tenants the power to demand more than superficial repairs from their landlords, by compelling owners and management companies to address the root causes of dangerous and unhealthy apartment conditions. Neglectful landlords have consistently gamed the system by doing the bare minimum. This substandard work has caused tenants across the City to suffer further, problems like leaks and mold are simply covered up and painted over versus being addressed and corrected. I would like to thank Councilmember Torres as well as Councilmembers Reynoso and Espinal for their leadership on tackling this legislative oversight on this issue as well as many other housing concerns that plague NYC tenants,” saidKerri White, Director of Organizing and Policy, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB).
"By empowering tenants to compel correction of systemic building problems that result in recurrent housing code violations, this important bill will reduce the need for repetitive litigation which demoralizes tenants and wastes the time and resources of the City and the court system. The bill also discourages landlords from ignoring dysfunctional building systems by increasing the penalties for landlords who fail to correct systemic problems,” said Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation at South Brooklyn Legal Services.
“The Legal Aid Society commends Council Members Ritchie Torres, Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal for introducing this important legislation which will allow tenants to pursue cases against their landlords to repair the underlying conditions in their apartments which caused the housing maintenance code violation. Now tenants can act in partnership with HPD to ensure that New York apartments are kept in safe and good condition. Finally, landlords will be held accountable for repairing the problem and not just re-painting the problem,” said Ellen Davidson, staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society.