The New York City Council on Wednesday passed a package of 17 bills intended to protect tenants from landlord abuse. The legislation includes closing the so-called “Kushner loophole,” which had allowed landlords to file false paperwork with the city’s Department of Buildings. The bill comes a year after President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family’s firm, Kushner Companies, was found to have falsely claimed it had no rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned when it actually had hundreds.
Last March, tenants’ rights watchdog Housing Rights Initiative, found Kushner Cos. filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in 34 buildings across New York City between 2013 and 2016. The applications stated there were no rent-regulated tenants living in the buildings, but tax documents revealed more than 300 units that were rent regulated.
City law requires developers to disclose the number of tenants in their buildings who are rent regulated. In August, the DOB fined Kushner Cos. $210,000 for 42 violations of submitting false applications across 17 buildings.
Introduced by Council Member Ritchie Torres, who launched an investigation last year following the HRI report, the bill passed on Wednesday requires the DOB and the Department of Finance (DOF) to work together to identify possible false statements about rent-regulated housing from developers. And 25 percent of buildings on a watch list compiled by the city’s Housing Development and Preservation department would be audited on a yearly basis.
“We refuse to stand by idly while real estate companies and bad landlords play Russian roulette with the safety of tenants and the affordability of rent,” Torres said in a statement.
Other anti-displacement bills included in the package address the use of construction by landlords to remove tenants from their homes. The Council passed a trio of bills introduced by Council Member Helen Rosenthal that aim to block landlords from using construction as a means of harassment.
Under one proposed law, the responsibility of preparing a tenant protection plan would fall on a contractor instead of the owner. Owners would also have to note on construction permits that identify the occupied units in a building. Submitting false information to obtain a permit would come with a fine of $10,000 for the first violation, followed by $25,000 for each offense after.
Rosenthal said the three bills are necessary especially in her district of the Upper West Side, where one building lost 300 rent-stabilized units since 2007. “The building’s exodus of tenants has been driven by massive construction projects, and the owner’s persistent attempts to evade existing tenant protection laws,” Rosenthal said in a statement.
The Council Member added: “These malicious actions meant to displace tenants are beyond unacceptable, and we are taking action.”
The package of bills also includes requiring landlords to better explain buyout offers to tenants, increase enforcement of existing tenant protection laws, and force landlords to provide tenants with at least four years of rental history.
The package of bills will move on to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign them into law.
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