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City Targets Over 1,000 Buildings For New Tenant Protection Program

October 12, 2018

The Certification of No Harassment pilot is a new tool to shield New Yorkers from tenant harassment

NEW YORK— Today, the de Blasio Administration announced the implementation of the Certification of No Harassment (CONH) Pilot Program, a new law that requires buildings that meet certain criteria to certify that no tenant harassment has taken place before being granted construction permits to significantly alter their properties. Today, the City also published the list of more than 1,000 buildings with approximately 26,000 units that will now be subject to the CONH program.

“New York City is stopping tenant harassment in its tracks,” said Mayor de Blasio. “We are taking a proactive approach to enforcement and targeting at-risk buildings for increased scrutiny in order to protect affordability across the city.”

Owners of buildings included on the program list will be required to apply for a Certification of No Harassment before they are approved for construction permits by the Department of Buildings. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development will conduct the investigation to certify that no tenant harassment has taken place. Owners denied a CONH will not be able to significantly alter their buildings for five years, unless they provide permanently affordable housing to be built without City subsidy, tax benefits, or inclusionary housing. The list of flagged CONH properties will be updated by HPD and included on HPD’s and DOB’s websites.

“This administration has been working on multiple fronts to proactively and aggressively combat tenant harassment, while preserving affordable housing at record pace.  Now, the City has a new tool to root out harassment that will be applied to more than 1,000 buildings, including 26,000 apartments in neighborhoods identified as most at risk,” said HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. “I want to thank the City Council, in particular Councilman Brad Lander, for their leadership, and the many advocacy groups who partnered with us to take another strong step to protect tenants and ensure New York remains a city for everyone.”

“We look forward to working with our partners at HPD to prevent bad-actor landlords from getting construction permits. This new effort builds upon our agencies’ work together in the city-state Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, which has secured unprecedented penalties, including jail time, for landlords who abuse their tenants,” said Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler, PE.

“The Council is proud to have worked with HPD and DOB to make this Certification of No Harassment Pilot a reality,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “In the midst of an affordability crisis, tenants in New York have enough to deal with without worrying about harassment from unscrupulous landlords. I will continue to fight for tenants and expansion of tenant protection laws.”

Two versions of the CONH program have been in place in Hell’s Kitchen since 1974 and for Single-Room Occupancy buildings (SROs) citywide, but the program was significantly expanded thanks to the City Council’s 2017 CONH legislation. The broadened 36-month pilot includes buildings that meet the following criteria:

  • Buildings which meet a threshold of distress within 11 community board districts throughout the city.  The Community Boards have either undergone city-sponsored neighborhood-wide rezonings or have a high concentration of distressed buildings
  • Any building citywide where a full vacate order has been issued, or where a building is enrolled in HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP) and remained active in the program for more than four (4) months.
  • In addition, any building citywide where there has been a final determination of harassment in court, or by NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) within the preceding five years will be added to the list and will automatically be denied a CONH upon application. 

Once a building owner subject to the program applies for a Certification of No Harassment, HPD will notify tenants, community groups, the community board, and local elected officials. HPD will then conduct an investigation into whether tenant harassment has taken place at the property within the last five years. If HPD determines that there is evidence of harassment, a hearing will be held at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and the building owner can be potentially barred from seeking DOB permits.  If no evidence of tenant harassment is found, HPD will grant the building a Certification of No Harassment.

The expanded CONH program is the product of a working group led by Council Member Brad Lander and HPD.   The group was comprised of a wide range of stakeholders, including government agencies, City Council members and staff, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, Cypress Hills LDC, Los Sures, United Neighborhood Housing Program, Urban Justice Center, Make the Road, Fifth Avenue Committee, Mobilization for Justice, Housing Conservation Coordinators Inc., The Legal Aid Society, Legal Services NYC, Faith in NY, New York State Association of Affordable Housing, Rent Stabilization Association, Community Housing Improvement Program, Real Estate Board of New York, NYU Furman Center, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp., and other experts interested in identifying ways to further deter harassment. 

Working with members of the group, the City continued to analyze data to find characteristics of buildings where tenant harassment was suspected, reported, or confirmed. The group looked at many factors and learned that buildings that are physically distressed or recently sold may be associated with reports of harassment.

“I commend DOB and HPD for initiating an important pilot in our ongoing war against tenant harassment. Bad-acting landlords need to be held accountable for behavior that puts affordable housing and the tenants who rely on it at risk, and the ‘certification of no harassment’ is a meaningful tool for applying that accountability,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“This is a good day for tenants in New York City. Thanks to the CONH Program, landlords who harass their tenants -- with the goal of driving them out so they can raise rents -- will no longer be able to get as-of-right building permits to demolish or alter their buildings," said New York City Council Member Brad Lander. “Thank you to the de Blasio Administration, to HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer and former Commissioner Vicki Been and their first-rate team, along with DOB Commissioner Chandler, for working closely with us to develop and implement the program, to the diverse members of our stakeholder working group, to ANHD’s Coalition against Tenant Harassment, and to the many tenant activists who organized for years to win this policy. New York City is taking the lead nationally in confronting the unscrupulous business practice of tenant harassment.”      

"Finding ways to protect tenants and reduce the pressure of the difficult housing market here in New York is critical to preserving the character and integrity of our neighborhoods," said Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Chair of the Council's Committee on Housing & Buildings. "This pilot provides yet another tool with which we can help tenants avoid displacement and help them afford to stay in the communities they call home."

“When we talk about our city’s housing crisis, we often think of issues like rising rents and gentrification. But one under-discussed factor contributing to displacement is tenant harassment. I frequently hear stories from constituents who have experienced tenant harassment, and their advocacy has spurred me and my colleagues in the City Council to act. The pilot program HPD is launching today sends a strong signal that the City will not tolerate this kind of behavior, and there will be serious consequences for landlords and building owners who are found to engage in any kind of harassment. Still, we need to go further. In the Council, I will push to expand the landmark Right to Counsel law, institute greater tenant protections, and strengthen the City’s enforcement capabilities. I look forward to working with my colleagues and HPD on these pressing issues,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal.

“I am very pleased that the “Certification of No Harassment” (CONH) Pilot program has been expanded to CB4, where rapid gentrification has left residents in rent-regulated housing especially susceptible to tenant harassment and displacement,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “Tenant protection is a top priority of mine, and the CONH program is a valuable tool to combat tenant harassment, hold bad actors accountable, and aid the City in its efforts to preserve our existing affordable housing stock. The CONH Pilot sends a strong message to unscrupulous landlords that NYC is committed to protecting tenants and preserving affordable housing. I applaud HPD, my City Council Colleagues, and all of the involved stakeholders for achieving such a huge win for tenants, and I look forward to continuing the work to expand this program to the rest of the City.” 

“Launching the Certificate of No Harassment (CONH) pilot program will require building owners in certain communities to prove they have not engaged in harassment before they can obtain permits from the City to demolish or make significant alterations to their buildings. If the landlord is found to have harassed tenants, they would not be able to acquire those permits – unless they submit to a significant "cure" requirement (making a substantial portion of their building permanently affordable, with no public subsidy). I am proud to have successfully advocated for the inclusion of Community Boards 4 and 5 to be included in this legislation and I am thankful that residents will have an additional protection against unscrupulous landlords. I look forward to continue working with the Administration in the implementation of this pilot program and I’m thankful for the City Council’s support led by Council Member Brad Lander, advocacy groups and tenant leaders, on this very important program,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson.

“Unscrupulous landlords use construction projects as a convenient way to force tenants into leaving so they can dramatically raise rents. This is a form of harassment that depletes our city’s affordable housing stock and causes needless despair for so many vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Assembly’s Housing Committee. “This pilot program is an important tool that will help protect tenants from harassment and preserve affordable apartments in neighborhoods that are most at risk.”

“The CONH Pilot Program will help protect New York City’s most vulnerable residents from landlord harassment and prevent displacement of low-income tenants.  Increased scrutiny from tenants, the local community, and HPD will incentivize landlords to treat tenants with the dignity they deserve.  We look forward to seeing the results of the pilot program and hope to see the program expanded citywide,” said Jane Li, Staff Attorney at the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.

“Stopping tenant displacement is one of the most urgent issues of the day for New Yorkers in neighborhoods all across the city,” said Benjamin Dulchin, the Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.  “Many landlords are finding ways to get around the tenant protection laws that are supposed to help keep households and neighborhoods stable and affordable, leading to our current tenant harassment crisis.   The Certification of No Harassment program is an essential new program to help safeguard tenants’ rights and affordable housing. And, because it is a proactive disincentive against bad landlord behavior, it is a smart new approach by the City. We applaud Mayor de Blasio, HPD Commissioner Torres-Springer, and Council Member Lander for their commitment and leadership.”

“Taking a stand on tenant harassment is an essential step in combating the displacement of NYC tenants from their homes and communities,” said Marika Dias, Director of the citywide Tenant Rights Coalition at Legal Services NYC. “This initiative recognizes that tenant harassment is a strategy used by landlords, to push tenants out of buildings and then deregulate affordable apartments through construction. We will work alongside tenants and HPD, to ensure that the new CONH program is a powerful tool for tenants in the fight against harassment and displacement.”

“Housing Conservation Coordinators is very glad to see the Certification of No Harassment Program being piloted citywide,” said Jonathan Furlong, Director of Organizing at Housing Conservation Coordinators. “This is a program that tenants in Hell’s Kitchen and the West Side fought extremely hard for years ago, in trying to protect themselves from landlord harassment and rampant destabilization of their community.  HCC applauds all the community based housing groups that pushed so hard for this program to be expanded.”

“Day after day, tenants like me are harassed by landlords trying to push us out, renovate their apartments, and dramatically raise the rent," said Maria Cortes, a member of Make the Road New York and Brooklyn tenant. "That's what my landlord is doing to me in the building that I've called home for 25 years. And it's happening all across the city. The Certificate of No Harassment gives tenants like me a real voice and means that our complaints about landlord harassment will be taken seriously.”

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