Damned if you do…

Mayor de Blasio has announced the creation of another Anti-Tenant Harassment Unit targeted a“maintenance harassment.” At the same time, HPD announced a new Partners in Preservation program to fund local community groups to fight tenant displacement from new investments in a neighborhood. Apparently, City policy has returned to the days of Fort Apache, or maybe just bring private housing down to the public housing standard.

On the other hand, the Mayor admitted his ignorance of housing policy in a deposition intended to get him out of testifying in a case accusing the City of fostering segregation with location preferences for affordable housing applicants.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo called out New York City Housing Authority managers for falsely reporting repairs done when they failed to get access to tenant apartments. Then NYCHA admitted failing to comply with more federal rules than previously disclosed.

A federal bankruptcy judge has ruled that 17 loft tenants who haven’t paid rent in 25 years can’t be evicted or forced to take buyouts while their building goes to a foreclosure auction.

Citywide median asking rents for one bedrooms were $2,860 and two bedrooms were $3,220 in June, down 3-4% from the same time last year according to a report by apartment search site Zumper. A neighborhood by neighborhood analysis shows rents fell 7% in the financial district but were up in every area of the Bronx.

Two medical researchers brought a dose of reality to the “lead poisoning” debate in a Times Op-Ed noting that today’s “level of concern” for blood lead levels is one third the average for children nationwide in the 1970s and not poisoning by any standard.

NY Post Columnist Lois Weiss, who served on a 1993 property tax reform commission, reported on the first meeting this week of the fourth such commission since 1989…without much optimism about actual reform.

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Book ’em and Report ’em

Airbnb and other booking services will have to provide New York City with monthly reports of the addresses, length of stay, cost, host name, and other details of short-term stays under legislation passed by the City Council Wednesday and expected to be signed by the Mayor.

Meanwhile, the National Apartment Association has joined an appeal against Airbnb in federal court, trying to establish the right of property owners to decide if tenants may use the service.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a report this week decrying the high cost of security deposits and proposing statewide legislation to limit deposits to one month on all properties and require owners to offer installment payment plans for deposits. While highlighting that the median advertised rent in New York City in 2016 was $2695, the report also mentions that the average rent actually paid by new movers was $1690.

The New York Times reports that the City will propose combining all its rental assistance programs for the homeless into one system, to eliminate confusion and resistance to accepting tenants by building owners. Details of the combined program are not yet available.

Score another victory for NIMBYs who convinced developers planning 120 units, including 36 affordable apartments, in Elmhurst to build just 77 market rate units instead. Ironically, the City Planning Commission approved the larger building just days before opposition from the local Councilman killed it.

A legal challenge to local preferences for new housing has been filed against the Town of Eastchester. Advocates claim that giving a preference to Town residents for new senior apartments being built perpetuates segregation because the Town is mostly white. Similar cases have been brought in New York City and around the region, threatening one of the tools politicians use to convince neighborhoods to accept new development.

The City Store has just released the 2018 Zoning Handbook, an illustrated alternative for lay people who may not be able to face the full 1300 page New York City zoning code.

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You Be The Judge

Want to be a judge? The Advisory Council for the Housing Part of New York City’s Civil Court is recruiting lawyers interested in a five-year term and $187,200 annual salary to preside in Housing Court. Applicants can email Linda Dunlap-Miller at ldunlapm@nycourts.gov before September 7th, or they may write or appear in person at the Office of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George J. Silver, 111 Centre St., Room 1240, New York, New York 10013.

Speaking of judges, the National Association of Home Builders endorsed Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh, having appeared before him eight times on issues of interest to the real estate industry. While they didn’t win every time, they applauded Kavanaugh’s record on “curbing regulatory overreach.”

The next drink is on the Title Insurers, after a State Supreme Court Judge threw out new State regulations that limited their entertainment budgets in an attempt to reduce rates.

At least one CHIP member is dealing with elevator violations from a private inspector that were never served properly. The contractors are required by DOB to serve the owner or agent at the location, but apparently it doesn’t always happen. If you see a violation on record that you didn’t receive, a copy can be requested at pvtcopies@buildings.nyc.gov for an $8 fee…and let CHIP know.

Toll Brothers is being sued for allegedly failing to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements in new construction in Long Island City and Urby Staten Island is being sued for racial discrimination after evicting or buying out several tenants of its affordable units.

We may not know much about art, but we know a tax when we see it. The latest community benefit fee taxing development around the country is a requirement to put around 1% of development costs into “public art.” An estimated 80-100 municipalities have already bought in to the idea, at property owners’ and future residents’ expense.

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“Unaffordable” Guidelines

As blasted earlier this week, the City Rent Guidelines Board approved one and two year renewal guidelines of 1.5% and 2.5% Tuesday night, effective October 1. The official order number 50 will be posted here soon. Crain’s noted that the guidelines issued so far under the de Blasio administration failed to provide the 2% annual rent growth projected in the administration’s affordable housing development pro formas. Nassau County’s Rent Guidelines Board, meanwhile, approved 1% and 2% hikes.

The City Planning Commission approved a major rezoning of Inwood to encourage higher density housing. The plan now goes to the City Council for final approval.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission, on the other hand, extended the Boerum Hill Historic District, impeding development in a neighborhood of 288 buildings. There are now 143 historic districts in New York City.

Just before adjourning this month the State Legislature approved a bill requiring the City Buildings Department to give owners of adjacent buildings notice and proof of insurance thirty days before non-emergency work might affect them. The bill now goes to the Governor.

The Town of Hempstead Housing Authority is looking for a private joint-venture partner to redevelop 104 senior citizen housing units at Dogwood Terrace.

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Income Discrimination Cases

A Bronx broker and a Staten Island property owner were sued by the City’s new Source of Income Discrimination Unit for, respectively, advertising “No Section 8” and advising applicants that vouchers were not accepted. Ironically, the broker told the Times that the buildings listed in his ad were not his actual clients, just nearby, because he wanted to protect his listings.

Public housing can have satisfied tenants, if it is privately managed. A report by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council compared the buildings in a pilot project on private management with similar publicly managed projects and found that professional management makes a difference.

Although the City is looking at tightening lead paint laws for apartments, Mayor de Blasio acknowledged in a radio interview about lead poisoning cases at NYCHA that “We don’t know specifically what happened with each child, because unfortunately with lead [poisoning], there can be many sources.”

California apartment owners are looking at potentially broader rent regulationsafter a proposition repealing state restrictions qualified for the November ballot.

Regulation doesn’t just make existing housing more expensive, it is responsible for more than 30% of the cost of new housing development, according to a new study by the National Association of Home Builders and the National Multi Housing Council.

In one of its final acts before adjournment, the New York State Legislature passed a bill that will make Marshals look out for pets when performing an eviction. The bill now goes to the Governor for signature.

Rockland County’s Rent Guidelines Board approved a rent freeze for the coming year and Westchester’s board reportedly approved 2 and 3 percent one and two year guidelines, although they weren’t scheduled to vote until next week. CHIP’s Executive Director testified at Tuesday’s Manhattan hearing of the City Rent Guidelines Board and an audience of only a couple of dozen tenants.

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The Really Worst Landlord

New York City will have to spend $1.2 billion more than planned to fix public housing over the next five years, under a settlement reached with the U.S. Attorney’s office this week. The U.S. Attorney found, among other problems, that the New York City Housing Authority: “undermined HUD’s inspections by disguising the true condition of its properties. This deception included turning off water to developments to prevent HUD inspectors from observing leaks; posting “danger” signs to keep inspectors away from troubled areas; and temporarily hiding improperly stored hazardous materials. NYCHA management even included a document with suggestions for deceiving inspectors in NYCHA’s official training materials. This cover-up “how-to” guide was only removed in Summer 2017, after this Office called its existence to the attention of NYCHA’s outside lawyers.”

The City Budget for fiscal 2019, beginning July 1, 2018, was adopted by the City Council, Thursday, anticipating a $1.7 billion increase in property tax collections from 2018. Property taxes have risen more than 37% since 2013, not including this new hike.

Rent Guidelines Board hearings in the Bronx and Brooklyn began this week with little fanfare. The main lower Manhattan hearing begins at 4 p.m. Tuesdayat the Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 East 7th Street.

Housing Court Judge Susan Avery has been booted from the bench for “lack of judicial temperament.”

One year after the 421a benefit was replaced with the Affordable New York plan, only four buildings have been awarded tax breaks.

With the State Legislature likely to adjourn next week, the New York State Builders Association and New York State Association for Affordable Housing are sounding the alarm about possible last minute action on a bill that would impose prevailing wage requirements statewide on any project receiving any level of government assistance or tax breaks. The bill passed the Assembly and has a Republican sponsor in the State Senate.

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Fewer than half of the buildings with water tanks are in compliance with annual inspection and filing requirements, according to a City and State NY investigation. Reporters identified both City-owned and private buildings with obvious health hazards from, among other things, dead animals and exposure to the elements. Owners can check their filing status on this map.

The City Department of Buildings has announced that a new PW2 work permit application form will be required as of June 18th.

The New York Times continued its series on evictions and housing court this week with a lengthy piece on the Brooklyn housing part. Unlike earlier pieces in the series, this one reported owners’ problems with the court as well as tenants, and quoted judges complaining about tenants who appeared before them “umpteen” times. The reporter found some “textbook bad landlords, but also plenty of dishonorable tenants.” The Times also ran several letters to the editor on the series, including one from ABO.

Speaking of deadbeat tenants, the New York Post reported this week that New York City is late paying hundreds of millions of dollars to non-profits that provide homeless services, some of which, in turn, is owed to building owners who contract with those organizations to house the homeless.

We don’t know if the free range chicken or organic egg came first, but rents are higher within one tenth of a mile of Whole Foods supermarkets in Manhattan. The premium is about $1 a foot per month according to a CoStar analysis.

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Signs of the Times

Every employer in New York City will have to post an anti-sexual harassment sign where workers gather by 120 days after new legislation was signed by Mayor de Blasio Wednesday. The Commission on Human Rights is supposed to promulgate the rules and sign before the effective date. The Mayor also signed a law requiring every employer with 15 or more employees to require the employees to take anti-sexual harassment training classes, effective April 1, 2019.

In addition, the City Council, Wednesday, passed a slew of new fire safety bills that the Mayor is expected to sign into law. Int. 608 will require building owners to post a notice to tenants to close doors behind them when escaping a fire. Int. 602 requires all apartment entry and stair doors to be self closing by July 31, 2021. There were exceptions previously depending on year and type of construction. Int. 604 provides that after January 1, 2021, new or replacement smoke detectors within 20 feet of a kitchen meet reference standards for limiting false alarms when cooking—a standard some photoelectric detectors may meet now. Finally, Int. 610 will require annual notices to tenants that if they have children under six, the owner will provide stove knob covers for gas stoves, unless there is no cover that fits the stove model. This is the Council’s reaction to a recent tragic fire started by a child playing with a stove, although there is no research that shows that the covers work or for what aged children. It will go into effect 180 days after the Mayor enacts it.

Building owner Kamran Hakim is appealing the dismissal of his libel suit against Public Advocate Letitia James for putting him on the Worst Landlords list despite the fact that the buildings cited were vacant and slated for demolition. The judge apparently said it wasn’t libel because it was only her “opinion” that she published.

James, meanwhile, is lobbying hard to get named as a replacement for disgraced State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

New York City is planning to end contracts on 1700 cluster housing units for the homeless by August, with the expectation that most of the units will fall back under rent stabilization after being temporarily exempt.

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Drip, Drip

The New York City Water Board is considering a 2.36% increase in water rates effective July 1st. Hearings are scheduled later this month, with a final vote May 31st.

Repealing the Urstadt Law, ending vacancy allowances and luxury decontrol, and regulating currently deregulated units are all on the New York City Council’s wishlist. The Council Housing Committee, Wednesday, approved eight home rule resolutions asking Albany to tighten regulations and the full Council is expected to pass the resolutions next week.

The State Division of Housing and Community Renewal this week posted Operational Bulletin 2018-1:”The Effect of Defective Work on the Disposition of an Owner’s Application for a Major Capital Improvements (MCI) Rent Increase,” outlining how the Division would treat MCIs where there was evidence of defects such as leaks in a unit after buildingwide waterproofing. In general, the policy will be to treat defects in less than 20% of the apartments with individual unit exemptions from the MCI, but the Bulletin goes on to say that DHCR is “not strictly bound by this percentage.”

The City Department of Buildings is looking for owners, architects, engineers and other qualified professionals to volunteer for NYC Energy Conservation Code Advisory Committees. The Code is reviewed every three years, but this year the City Council has mandated stricter standards that will have to be incorporated. Apply by May 29th.

Airbnb is responsible for 9.2% of the 25% increase in citywide rents between 2009 and 2016, according to a statistically interesting report released Thursday by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Ossining, in Westchester County, is planning a vacancy study to determine if it can justify adopting rent stabilization. Coincidentally, a market analyst in Westchester this week noted that new construction coming online would cause countywide vacancy rates to increase from about 3% to 5-8% next year.

Rent control leads to a reduction in available rental housing, higher rents for unregulated units, causes renters to occupy apartments that are too large or small for their circumstances, results in longer commutes, and poorly targets needy renters, according to an exhaustive review of 60 years of empirical studies published this week.

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Cuomo Pushes Rent Control

Governor Cuomo wants to move quickly this Spring to end “vacancy decontrol,” presumably meaning either luxury decontrol or vacancy allowances, if Democrats take a Westchester Senate seat in a special election next week. It’s part of his plan to move left to undercut his primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon and to pressure State Sen. Simcha Felder to rejoin mainline Democrats.

Discounting rent increases based on tenant rent burdens “confiscates property…In so doing, the RGB has transformed a statutory price control into a public assistance program funded directly by property owners,” according to testimony submitted by CHIP Counsel Joseph Condon to the Rent Guidelines Board, Thursday. The Board, meanwhile, has announced public hearing dates in June and a final vote June 26th. Plan to testify at one of the hearings!

New York City is developing regulations for posting Energy Letter Grades in apartment buildings  beginning in 2020, but the Energy Star scores the ratings are based on are being modified this month in a way that will lower scores based on the source of energy used—a factor pretty much up to utilities and out of owner control.

The City’s plan to “preserve affordability” at the Linden Plaza Mitchell-Lama complex is too expensive, according to a lawsuit brought by the tenants council. They say the improvements and rent increases provided by the plan are more costly than if the buildings had simply exited Mitchell-Lama and were just subject to rent stabilization.

The City Department of Environmental Protection has announced grants up to $250,000 and 25% rate reductions for projects that allow buildings to re-use water.

Two pyrrhic court victories for owners were reported in nuisance eviction this week. The court in Westchester Plaza Holdings v. Furlow agreed that a tenant who had to be brought to court for non-payment eight times in 30 months should be evicted, then stayed its own order to see if the tenant could manage to pay on time for the next six months. In 529 W. 29th St., v. Reyes (subscription required), the Court acknowledged that a tenant with mental problems had caused two fires, but ruled he should be allowed to remain in occupancy to see if new medications helped.

Just 140 apartments in several projects either built or proposed prompted the Village of Mamaroneck in Westchester County to declare a six-month moratorium on multifamily housing, in the latest kneejerk reaction of Not In My Backyard.

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