By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
On Friday, Dec. 8, pols, community leaders and tenants rights activists gathered in front of City Hall to celebrate Intro 195, a bill that requires landlords to keep unoccupied units in good repair. The legislation also allows for tenants to report issues in vacant units. The sponsor of the bill, Councilmember Carlina Rivera of District 2, said that disrepair in uninhabited units affects the rest of the building.
“Some of these conditions are pretty serious. It’s rats, it’s garbage, leaks, mold, lack of carbon monoxide detectors, lack of fire suppression, the list goes on and on, there’s even been broken locks and open doors” Rivera said during a speech. “It just creates this feeling of being unsafe.”
Deborah Rand, who helped write the bill with Rivera, said the legislation was intended to give autonomy back to tenants and take some of the onus off of the Housing and Preservation Department in fixing vacant housing. Tenants can now go to court themselves to report their landlords and get an order to inspect apartments for dilapidated conditions. Previously, HPD had to get permission — either from a building owner or with a court-appointed order, to inspect vacant units before enforcing any violations which delayed the process of repairs.
“What this does is it gives some control over what’s happening in vacant apartments around them. In certain parts, certain buildings in the city, if owners want to get rid of tenants, they actually allow the vacant apartments to deteriorate,” Rand said. “A lot of occupied apartments suffer from leaks, mold, you know, unsafe conditions, possible fires from the vacant apartments. So what this bill does is it gives the opportunity for the people in occupied apartments to make complaints about the vacant apartments.”
Rivera echoed a similar sentiment and said that Intro 195 would allow for more units to become habitable. Estimates of how many empty apartments there are in New York City remain unclear, but estimates range from 40,000 to 90,000, according to reporting by Gothamist.
“We are changing the law to ensure that now occupied units are included in inspections so that we can have more homes online. But also we can address hazardous conditions that have affected so many living in their own residential building,” Rivera said during a press statement. “It will empower HPD to support residents suffering from conditions emanating from vacant units.”
The bill is intended to prevent a concept called warehousing, the practice of letting vacant units intentionally sit empty for a variety of reasons. This can sometimes look like landlords combining or “Frankenstein-ing” vacant units into a larger apartment in order to be able to circumvent rent-stabilization laws and charge a higher rate. Landlords also might not want to sink money into repairing a unit to make it habitable, or a building owner will let a rent-stabilized unit sit vacant because renting it out will bring down the average price of the entire residential building.
Brooklyn and Queens Councilmembers Shahana Hanif, Lincoln Restler and Shekar Krishnan all gave statements supporting the legislation. Krishnan said housing is the most important issue facing New Yorkers and holding landlords accountable is the first step to deliver safe living arrangements for city residents.
“The fact of the matter is that housing is the most urgent crisis in our city because it connects to every other crisis around us,” Krishnan said in a press statement. “How many apartments lie vacant that could be used to solve the housing crisis that we face? Yet, we haven’t seen the action that we need from our city and state agencies to address this problem which is exactly why we, as a City Council, are taking action.”