Legal Aid For Housing Court

The New York City Council yesterday passed legislation providing for free legal representation in housing court for all tenants earning under 200% of federal poverty levels (200% is currently $24,120 for an individual, $49,200 for a family of four). If signed by the Mayor, as expected, the plan would be fully implemented by July 31, 2022, but would apply to public housing tenants as early as this October.

After legal challenges prevented Mayor de Blasio from giving an across the board water rate credit to single family homeowners last year, the Mayor, last Friday, announced expanded credits for low income and senior homeowners and a new Multifamily Water Assistance Program which will give a $250 credit to about 40,000 “affordable” units that have regulatory agreements with the City.

The costs of garbage removal could be rising, or at least shifting, as the City has hired a consultant to explore a “pay as you throw” plan.

The eleventh time was the charm for Westchester County’s effort to end federal scrutiny of its local zoning. HUD has finally accepted a report by consultants that says town zoning that prevents multifamily development in large parts of the county is not racially discriminatory. The County Executive has insisted for years that the issue is economic, not racial, and that the County doesn’t control local zoning in the first place.

The metro New York region will see 27,000 new apartments completed this year, up from over 16,000 in 2016. Long Island City alone will add the most of any neighborhood, 3,700 units, followed by downtown Brooklyn and Jersey City, according to a report by RentCafe this week.

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Time To Take Out The Garbage

Mayor de Blasio’s latest assault on rats includes a proposal to prevent building owners in targeted areas from putting garbage out for collection before 4 a.m. on pick-up days and Increased organics collection requirements for multifamily properties.

The House subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development approved a fiscal 2018 budget proposal with $6.9 billion more than the President requested, but not necessarily enough more to continue all existing subsidies. The New York Housing Conference estimated that 14,000 voucher tenants around the state could lose funding.

No good deed goes unpunished when it comes to reporting illegal Airbnb apartment rentals. New York City apparently sees nothing wrong with fining building owners who report tenants breaking the law. Meanwhile, Newsday reports that Airbnb bookings near Jones Beach have quintupled since 2014 to almost 20,000. It is hot outside. A quick check for mid-week availability in August showed 300 units in elevator buildings listed.

The New York City Planning Commission, Monday, approved a major rezoning of Far Rockaway for higher density development. The proposal now goes to the City Council. They better hurry before Rockaway washes away.

City assessors did not visit 54% of the properties they were supposed to before valuing them, according to an audit by the State Comptroller issued yesterday. The investigation also found almost 100 global changes made to the Finance Department’s computerized assessment program with no record of who authorized them or why. Coincidentally, four potential City Council Speakers just signed a letter urging Mayor de Blasio to stop fighting a lawsuit claiming that City property tax assessments are unfair and discriminatory. Admit it and fix it, they say.

Rental and sales brokers are seeing their listings models attacked on all sides this week with Streeteasy and the Real Estate Board at war over competing platforms, and sites such as Nestio and Joinery trying different ways to cut out brokers entirely.

Mamaroneck building owners and tenants can expect to be surveyed by HUD on their experience with a Small Area Fair Market Rent pilot program. The test resulted in higher rents in the two affected zip codes than the rest of Westchester County. Other test areas being surveyed had a mix of higher and lower rents in their regions.

Mayor de Blasio, yesterday, trumpeted building or preserving 77,651 units of affordable housing since his election. But the actual number of new units completed so far is 4,145.

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New Law, Old News?

The State Legislature (probably temporarily) adjourned this week, but couldn’t leave Albany without passing a bill, to require rent stabilized lease riders to include information about ancillary service charges and describe them. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the rider already shows those items and amounts. If signed by the Governor, however, the rider will have to be revised within 120 days.

Mayor de Blasio’s plans for higher density housing in East Harlem were opposed by Community Board 11 at a raucous meeting this week. The  Board wants lower density and more units affordable to lower income tenants in exchange for approval, but protesters at the meeting opposed any change that might gentrify the neighborhood.

Some City Councilmen want to double the density of Airbnb guests permitted from two to four. The idea is to help B&B owners, but it isn’t clear how it squares with the Council’s general opposition to illegal occupancies. Several Long Island towns are taking the opposite tack. They now prohibit rentals for less than 14 days and want to raise the minimum to 30 days to discourage Airbnb hosts.

A Crown Heights building owner was found guilty, Tuesday, of three misdemeanor counts of illegally evicting tenants. The unusual case was brought by the State Attorney General in 2015. Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo launched a statewide multi-agency investigation of property owners using immigration status to harass tenants after an electrical contractor reportedly sent Queens tenants in a building he was working in a threatening letter.

Ossining, in Westchester County, is considering adopting Rent Stabilization although the consultant hired to review housing options noted that it depresses property taxes, encourages people to misuse space, and doesn’t have anything to do with tenant need.

The Rockland County Rent Guidelines Board on Monday approved increases of 0% for one year renewals and .5% for two year renewals, effective October 1st. New York City, Westchester and Nassau guidelines are all set to be voted this coming Tuesday. CHIP Executive Director Patrick Siconolfi testified at the New York City public hearing and faced a barrage of questions from tenant reps on the Board. His testimony highlighted the Board’s basic math error in considering gross income, including MCIs and Individual Apartment Improvement Increases, but ignoring capital expenses in computing profit margins. In questioning, he surprised the Board with proof of the increased and uncounted cost of compliance.  The City Council is passing a housing related bill into law an average of every two and one half weeks this year vs. every two and one half months in 2000, he noted.

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Storefronts Available, And More Available

There are 188 vacant storefronts on Broadway in Manhattan, with 55 of them north of 155th Street, according to a survey by the Borough President’s office released Monday.

President Trump is naming Lynne Patton, an event planner with no housing experience and questionable academic credentials, to run HUD Region 2, according to yesterday’s Daily News.

The New York Metro Area is on track to add about 100,000 apartments by 2030, but needs 278,000 according to an analysis released this week by the National Apartment Association. The New York apartment industry and residents add $3.5 billion a day to the economy, the report said.

Long Island needs more apartments too. The Long Island Association reported this week that the critical 20-34 year-old population increased by 36,000 from 2010 to 2015 after falling by almost150,000 in the prior 20 years.

Nassau County’s Rent Guidelines Board is having hearings June 20th and 26th, but apparently won’t decide final guidelines until September, playing havoc with required advance renewal offers.

What does even the threat of rent control do to multifamily property values? Offering prices for apartment buildings dropped 25% before a recent rent control referendum was defeated in Santa Rosa, California…if they could get an offer.

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Tax Levy Up $1.6 Billion

Property taxes overall will go up 6.6% under the Fiscal 2018 budget approved by the New York City Council, Tuesday. The Council added $200 million in estimated property tax revenues above the Mayor’s executive budget proposal–for a total increase of about $1.6 billion. The class 2 tax rate was set at $12.729, slightly lower than the current year’s, but will raise more due to assessment increases.

The City is issuing more violations according to a Furman Center study on the State of New York City’s Housing in 2016. There were 236 housing code violations per 1,000 privately-owned rental units in New York City in 2016, up about 3 percent over 2015, the report said. The study also looked at poverty in different neighborhoods and found that the share of households earning under $40,000 grew 3% from 2000 to 2015, while the share earning between $40,000 and $100,000 declined 3%.

One third of the 4500 audited tenants in low income units of 80/20 developments no longer meet the income requirements for new tenants, according to a study by the State Comptroller’s office. Some households earn more than $250,000 and “Each of the households with incomes of more than $250,000 paid rents of less than $1,000 per month, with the lowest monthly rent being about $780,” the audit found. “… it is not clear that New York State’s low-income households optimally benefit from the Program because many affordable units are occupied by tenants with relatively high annual incomes,” the report concluded. On top of that, the audit focused on four buildings with 363 subsidized units that received at least $427 million in tax incentives, or $1.17 million per subsidized unit.

No one can deny those units are in demand. 93,000 people applied for 104 new subsidized units at Essex Crossing in the latest housing lottery.

New York is not alone. The National Low Income Housing Coalition just released a report showing that a 40 hour per week minimum wage worker cannot afford a two bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States. In New York City, a person would have to work 130 hours at minimum wage to afford a two bedroom, 135 hours in Westchester, and 149 hours per week in Nassau/Suffolk.

Elected officials, however, keep discouraging new subsidized projects in their own neighborhoods. The most recent failure: a 72 unit project planned in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn with 18 subsidized units that would have been “too big and too dense,” for the local councilman.

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Signatures Here and There

Mayor de Blasio, as expected Tuesday, signed legislation requiring apartment buildings to maintain minimum winter night time temperatures of 62 degrees between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., beginning October 1st.

The bill was one of more than two dozen new laws signed, including several providing for more community input and delay in Board of Standards and Appeals decisions on zoning variances.

Operating rental housing in the City may get more complex every day, but the Mayor himself blew a simple building registration requirement because he forgot to sign the form.

And so-called housing advocates, including many elected officials, were out in force this week rallying against proposals for new privately built housing with 50% subsidized units because they weren’t 100% subsidized.

Meanwhile, HPD yesterday issued a Request for Proposals for development of 850 units on four city owned cites.

New York City Rent Guidelines hearings begin next week, as do Rockland and Westchester County’s. Rockland has a meeting at 7 p.m. June 12th in the Finkelstein Library in Spring Valley, with a vote June 19th at 7 p.m. in Haverstraw Town Hall. Westchester hearings begin Monday at 7 p.m. in Mt. Vernon City Hall and wind up June 27th at 7 p.m. in White Plains City Hall. The DHCR hasn’t posted the full hearing schedules for Rockland or Westchester online yet and hasn’t announced any schedule for Nassau.

How bad does a tenant have to be to get evicted as a nuisance? One housing judge accepted the testimony of 14 other tenants in 364 93rd Street LLC v. Clementine, only a year after the case began.

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Turning Up the Heat

Nighttime building temperatures will have to be a minimum of 62 degrees next winter, regardless of outside temperature, under legislation passed by the City Council yesterday and expected to be signed by the Mayor. CHIP and ABO opposed the measure, and an earlier version that proposed raising daytime temperature requirements to 72 was amended after our objections. Environmental groups also opposed the bill as a waste of energy.

President Trump’s budget proposal calls for reduced support for public housing and Section 8, and an increase in the rent that voucher tenants must pay out of pocket to 35% of income from 30%, but it is not clear that Congress will go along.

The Appellate Division, 1st Department, this week, agreed to the eviction of a tenant for renting space in her apartment through Airbnb. The court in Goldstein vs. Lipetz, was “unanimous in rejecting defendant’s primary argument … in which she contends that the 93 transient, short-term, paying guests she hosted over a year and a half were “roommates.””

A Democrat won a formerly Republican State Assembly seat from Long Island in a special election Tuesday, and another Democrat won a vacant Senate seat, bringing the ‘official’ total of Democrats in the State Senate to a majority of 32. The Independent Democratic Conference and Sen. Simcha Felder still caucus with Republicans, however, although no love is lost between them…with the IDC claiming the mantle of progressives and Felder arguing strangely for party unity.

Last week we reported that New York City was number one in the world in construction costs. This week the Lincoln Institute reported that we are still number one in property taxes. The effective tax rate on apartment buildings in New York City is five times the rate in Seattle, Boston, and Washington, DC, and four times the rate in Chicago or Philadelphia.

The Rent Guidelines Board this morning released reports on the Rent Stabilized housing stock and housing inventory generally. The net number of stabilized units only fell by 677 in 2016 after accounting for new units with tax incentives and deregulations. The number of in rem units managed by the City of New York has fallen to a record low 125, from a peak of about 100,000 in the 1980s, due to lien sales, third party transfers, and other programs.

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A Good Freeze

City water rates will be frozen at 2016 rates for another year per the Department of Environmental Protection’s recommendation to the Water Board yesterday.

A State Supreme Court Judge has threatened to put an apartment building into receivership if the owner continues to advertise illegal Airbnb rentals, according to a New York Post article this week.

New York City is number one, in construction costs. The Turner & Townsend International Construction Market Survey reports that New York has edged out San Francisco and Zurich for the title, with costs averaging $354 per square foot.

Mayor de Blasio, Tuesday,  announced the first significant drop in poverty in the City since the recession. Property owners played their part…the City counts the difference between regulated and market rents as income for poor tenants.

Illegal loft tenants are seeking State legislation to extend the June 15th registration deadline to legalize their units. They also want to strike a requirement for street facing windows and an eligibility requirement that units were occupied back in 2009.

Fed up with nitpicking HUD rules on lead paint, Section 8, Fair Housing, etc.? HUD is seeking suggestions for regulatory reform until June 14th.

In a non-traditional succession case, 541 Union LLC vs. Rivera, a Bronx Housing Court judge has granted rights to a lease to a man who claimed to have lived as if married to a deceased tenant…while still actually married to someone else.

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Bugging Owners

Building owners will be required to file annual reports on bedbug infestations and either send notices to tenants or post the information under legislation signed into law by Mayor de Blasio, Wednesday. The law goes into effect in six months.

The Mayor also signed a bill, effective in nine months, that would allow building owners to sign up for email alerts when 311 complaints are reported on the City’s online databases. Apparently, the Council was unaware that anyone can set up such alerts now  at  https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us/, although the database is not reliably updated.

In an attempt to crack down on illegal conversions and rooming houses, the City Council, Wednesday, passed a bill to fine owners $15,000 for three illegal units above the number listed on the certificate of occupancy.

They also voted to extend a moratorium on conversion of hotels to condominiums. The bill is a favorite of hotel union workers, who, perhaps coincidentally, endorsed de Blasio for reelection that afternoon. The idea is that the hotel industry is losing jobs to residential conversion, although, in fact, the City’s own tourism department reports that new inventory has exceeded losses for years and 25,000 more hotel rooms are in development.

Residential development is also booming again, thanks in part to the State Legislature agreeing to renew 421-a tax incentives. The Building Congress reported this week that  permits were issued for 6,343 residential units in the first quarter, nearly triple the prior year and the most for the quarter since 2007.

The latest digital map you didn’t know you needed shows every community facility in the City, including libraries, hospitals, city offices, parks, schools, youth programs, parking lot and more.

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Budget Reprieve, For Now

Congress, yesterday, gave final approval for increased funding for tenant and project based Section 8 for the remainder of the fiscal year ending September 30th–basically allowing for continued funding of existing benefits due to inflation–but the Trump administration is seeking deep cuts beginning October 1st.

Earlier this week, President Trump nominated Pam Patenaude as Deputy Secretary of HUD. Patenaude, who has worked in apartment management, HUD, and academia, was one of the industry’s top recommendations for Secretary before Trump appointed Ben Carson.

Airbnb has launched a new intensive lobbying effort in Albany to allow short term apartment rentals, but at the same time announced agreement with San Francisco to implement a host registration system that would  ensure compliance with local zoning and safety requirements.

The City Department of Buildings has release new interactive maps showing façade condition and Local Law 11 filing status for more than14,000 building and the age, location, and reason for about 7,500 sidewalk sheds.

The DOB has also been cracking down on improper self-certifications. The Real Deal reported this morning that seven architects and engineers have “voluntarily” surrendered privileges since March 24th.

Mayor de Blasio, yesterday, signed a new law barring employers from asking prospective employees about their previous salary. It will be effective in 180 days.

Fines levied by the Environmental Control Board increased about 40% from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2016 according to a report issued this week by the City Comptroller. The Department of Buildings is generating $15 million more in fines. Recycling violations are up 82% and dirty sidewalk violations are up 125%.

ABO members can get additional rebates on building materials and equipment made by more than 50 manufacturers purchased since January. Applications must be filed by May 19th.

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