A group of New York City-based landlords have filed suit over a city agency’s program requiring building owners to prove that they have not harassed tenants in order to receive certain permits. New York City’s Certification of No Harassment program is part of the city’s Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) agency and applies to owners that meet certain requirements, which include buildings that are within certain districts in Manhattan and Brooklyn, SRO properties, and buildings that are in “significant” distress, according to the city. A local law established in 2018 established the Pilot Program Building List, which requires that property owners must apply for and receive the certification of no harassment before going forward with changing a property’s use, occupancy, or to demolish entirely or any part of a building.
The group of landlords filed eight lawsuits against the city this week asking to be removed from the Pilot Program Building List, claiming that the process city officials use to decide which buildings are added to the list lacks transparency and effectively bars them from getting building permits for demolition or major renovations. In addition to being added to the list due to significant distress, buildings are also added once a court or city agency determines the building’s tenants were harassed. HPD uses an internal index system to decide which buildings go on the list. Among other metrics, the index rates past and present hazardous violations a property has received in the past five years. There are currently more than 1,000 buildings on the list.
New York City officials as well as state legislators have been strengthening tenant protections in recent years, including a landmark deal on rent control in 2019 at the state level. Just last week, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced it had formed its first ever Housing & Tenant Protection Unit aimed at cracking down on systemic criminal harassment of tenants and abuse of government programs by developers and landlords. New York’s recent housing laws come amid a wave of tenant protections and rent regulations being signed into law nationwide that has been spurred by soaring rent prices. As protection programs like New York City’s are put to the test, the debate over whether rent regulations helps or hurts efforts to solve the affordable housing crisis will continue to play out across the country.