City Relying on 1962 State Law to Combat Irresponsible Landlords

From left to right: Don Schacknai, First Deputy Commissioner of HPD, Miguilania Rincon, tenant, Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate James, Commissioner Steven Banks, HRA/DSS, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. Image Credit: Anna Bower.

From left to right: Don Schacknai, First Deputy Commissioner of HPD, Miguilania Rincon, tenant, Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate James, Commissioner Steven Banks, HRA/DSS, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. Image Credit: Anna Bower.

City forces eight landlords to fix building code violations in twelve buildings by threatening to stop paying rent for tenants on public assistance. On May 26, 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James announced the use of the 1962 New York State Spiegel Law as a tool to compel landlords to fix violations for tenants receiving public assistance. Landlords who do not complete repairs quickly will lose out on rent payments.

The 1962 Spiegel Law allows the NYC Human Resources Administration/ Department of Social Services (HRA/DSS) to withhold rent payments for tenants receiving public assistance if conditions in the building are dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to life and health. The law is initially evoked when the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) sends a letter to HRA requesting that the agency notify landlords of their duty under law to fix outstanding violations. Landlords have 15 days from date of notification to request a re-inspection and Dismissal of Violations. If they do not meet the deadline, HRA can start withholding rent payments and HPD may ultimately take legal action. Under this law, landlords cannot evict tenants because rent withheld by HRA.

On May 24, 2016, HRA sent letters to eight landlords concerning 2,075 building code violations in twelve buildings in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. 358 of these violations are considered immediately hazardous such as inadequate fire exits, rodents, lead-based paint, and lack of heat, hot water, electricity or gas. Separate letters were sent to the 72 public assistance tenants in these buildings notifying them of the action and providing them information regarding available legal assistance from the Legal Aid Society, Legal Services NYC and LEAP/Urban Justice Center should landlords attempt to evict them. In addition to the tenants on public assistance, more than 1,800 tenants in these buildings will benefit from these violations being cleared.

If the landlords fail to correct these conditions, HPD may file a case in New York City Housing Court, which could lead to additional civil penalties and even possibly incarceration if the violations are not fixed.

“Today we are stepping up our efforts to let irresponsible landlords know that their disregard for the health and safety of tenants will not be tolerated in our City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This multi-agency effort demonstrates that, by joining forces, we can uphold our commitment to preserve decent and affordable housing for all New Yorkers.” According to the Mayor, this law was aggressively used during the Koch Administration in the 1980s but then stopped being used.

“New York is not a city that subsidizes mistreatment of tenants, and that is why we are taking legal action today against unscrupulous landlords. For too long, these bad actors have forced tenants to live in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, while receiving public assistance payments – today that practice ends. Together, we will ensure that every New Yorker has the safe and decent home they deserve,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. All of these landlords are part of the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord Watchlist.

“Tenants in our City are entitled to a safe and decent home, regardless of how much rent they pay or the source of their income,” said DSS Commissioner Steven Banks. “The 1962 Spiegel Law is another tool that we will use to protect the most vulnerable tenants from recalcitrant landlords who neglect their obligations.”

“By law, every New York tenant has a right to a safe and healthy home – and this administration is using every tool available to enforce the law against landlords who disregard their basic obligations,” said HPD Commissioner Vicki Been. “The property owners we are taking action against under Spiegel are among the worst in the city. We won’t rest until they, and every other landlord in this City, provide tenants the homes they deserve by clearing up well-documented, unsafe and unsanitary conditions in their buildings. Enough is enough, violations must be cleared.”

“By refusing to keep paying landlords whose buildings are in deplorable condition, the City is taking a stand for New York City tenants,” said Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation at Legal Services NYC. “These landlords have neglected their buildings and their tenants have had to endure unsafe and unsanitary conditions for years. We applaud the City for using the Spiegel Law to enforce the rights of New York tenants and our attorneys stand ready to defend any tenants who face retaliation from their landlords as a result of these actions.”

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, said, “We commend the City for standing up for tenants who are living in apartments with terrible conditions that endanger the health and safety of themselves and their families. The Spiegel Law is an important tool for ensuring that landlords are not paid when they refuse to maintain their properties, and The Legal Aid Society looks forward to defending and working to enforce these tenants’ rights.”

By: Brian Kaszuba (Brian is the CityLand Editor and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2004).

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