New Report Shows Construction As Harassment Remains A Threat To Rent-Stabilized Tenants Despite Tenant Protection Laws

January 20, 2022

A new report released today, “Unfinished Business at the Department of Buildings: The Gaps in Laws Intended to Protect Tenants from Construction as Harassment, and Our Community-driven Solutions,”

documents the experience of tenants whose buildings underwent recent construction and the gaps in laws intended to protect tenants from the practice of construction as harassment.

The report is a follow-up to Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) and TakeRoot’s 2015 collaboration, which called attention to the rampant practice of construction as harassment in New York City.

The report was written by STS and TakeRoot Justice, with leadership from tenant organizers, and details how laws intended to protect tenants fail to do so because of improper implementation and enforcement by City agencies.

The report outlines comprehensive changes to existing laws, including implementing specific and meaningful dates for correcting the violations that lead to vacate orders, increased violation fees for disrupted essential services like gas and hot water, and passing new legislation for building-wide rent reduction where lead dust hazards have been found.

The report draws on data from a survey of nearly 40 tenants across 27 buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx whose buildings underwent construction in 2019 and 2020 as well as publicly-available City data.

The report draws on data from a survey of nearly 40 tenants across 27 buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx whose buildings underwent construction in 2019 and 2020 as well as publicly-available City data.

Key research findings include:

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  • 97% of tenants experienced at least one disruption to essential services, such as cold and hot water, electricity and gas, during the most recent construction in their building.

  • 97% of tenants experienced at least one health and safety hazard as the result of construction, including unsafe construction practices, fumes and dust.

  • Over half of tenants (62%) felt personally targeted by their landlord or management company, representing interconnected forms of tenant harassment during construction.

  • Over half of tenants (55%) reported that their landlord never gave them advance notice of disruption of services, representing insufficient notice and postings about construction and tenants’ rights during construction.

Through its organizing and advocacy work, STS calls for reforming the Department of Buildings so that tenant safety is front and center. The report’s recommendations lay out concrete legal and policy changes that can be made to bridge the gaps in the laws that the research show aren’t protecting tenants. They include:

  • Revising Local Law 150 of 2017 to require meaningful and specific dates for correcting violations resulting in the issuance of a vacate order.

  • Escalating Class C violation fees weekly for disrupted essential services in buildings with more than 16 units until violations are corrected.

  • Expanding Local Law 1 of 2004 to identify and remediate lead-based paint hazards in all multiple occupied dwellings regardless of whether children are present and pass legislation for building-wide rent reductions where lead dust hazards have been found.

  • The DOB and Office of the Tenant Advocate should work together to create and disseminate a document for tenants about the physical and emotional risks of construction as harassment, and where to seek support.

“The City of New York still has a lot of work to do to ensure that no tenant in New York City suffers from construction as harassment,” said Rolando Guzman, deputy director of community preservation at St. Nicks Alliance. “This report shows some critical areas that the City and City Council need to work in order to ensure that tenants are safe during construction.”

“Our research shows that the Department of Buildings and other City agencies can do better by low-income and rent-stabilized tenants across the city,” said Irene Linares, senior research and policy coordinator at TakeRoot Justice. “Life at home should be peaceful for essential workers, parents, guardians and aging people whose buildings undergo construction. But our findings reveal that construction as harassment continues to impact tenants, and that the laws designed to protect them have not been sufficiently implemented or enforced. There is no good excuse for construction hazards that make people unsafe in their own building or the lack of tenants’ rights documents in lobbies and landings at this point. The City must do better and yield this call for change.”

Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition is a citywide coalition of community organizations who are fighting to protect the lives and homes of New York City tenants where landlords are using construction as harassment. Through this community driven effort, they demand the systemic reform of the Department of Buildings.

TakeRoot Justice provides legal, participatory research and policy support to strengthen the work of grassroots and community-based groups in New York City to dismantle racial, economic and social oppression.

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