In an effort to stanch the city’s hemorrhage of affordable housing for very low-income tenants, Councilmember Ronnie Eldridge has introduced a bill to preserve single-room-occupancy hotels and rooming houses by protecting residents from landlord harassment.
The bill mandates the Department of Buildings to issue a stop-work order when landlords pursue renovations on a building without a “Certificate of No Harassment” from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The bill would also require the city to immediately block rehabilitation work that goes beyond the scope of city permits.
“We’ve had the problem of landlords converting SRO hotels illegally, without the proper permits, without the certificate of no harassment,” says Eldridge. “We’re losing SROs daily, so anything we can do is important.”
Currently, the city issues stop-work orders at the discretion of the buildings commissioner, but Eldridge’s proposal would make the orders mandatory. The bill also seeks to combat a form of harassment that advocates say is becoming more common–interrupting tenants lives and living spaces with extensive, long-term construction projects.
According to Westside SRO Law Project Director Betsy Kane, harassment of SRO tenants has been on the rise in the past few years. “The city has slacked in enforcing the laws, and the landlords have found loopholes in them. Meanwhile harassment has become a very severe and horrifying thing,” she said.
No date has been set for a hearing in the Housing and Buildings Committee, although 11 councilmembers have co-sponsored the bill. Eldridge says Archie Spigner, chair of the committee, has said the bill will “definitely” go forward to a hearing.