New City Council Legislation Aims to Find Out
Amidst the sweltering August heat, dozens of members of community-based organization Make the Road New York gathered together outside of 199 Lee Street in South Williamsburg, in support of a piece of brand new legislation that aims to promote transparency and accountability for landlords across the city.
The corporate landlord registration legislation, or the Multiple Dwelling Registration Bill, is slated to be introduced to the City Council on Thursday. Sponsored by Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito of Harlem and crafted in conjunction with Make the Road New York and South Brooklyn Legal Services, the bill will amend the New York City Administrative Code to require landlords organized as corporations and partnerships to register the names of their individual principals with the City.
As it currently stands, when residential apartment buildings are owned by LLCs—limited liability corp—the city only requires a managing agent to register, providing the corporation’s address and phone number. As a consequence, the real landlords are often impossible to track down, let alone reach in case of an emergency.
199 Lee Avenue, the site of the gathering, is the listed landlord address of thousands of tenants in and around Williamsburg. However, it is simply a mail room, containing thousands of post office boxes, thus proving the necessity of new legislation that makes sure landlords are closely kept track of, and held accountable for their actions.
“Many times, we are unable to determine who actually owns our buildings,” said Make the Road leader and Williamsburg resident Alfonso H. Ventura. “Sometimes the landlord is an LLC. In these occurrences, the agents that manage the buildings are often difficult, if not impossible, to reach, and often bare little relation to anyone with decision-making authority over property….The lack of transparency of ownernship makes it difficult for tenants and their advocates to resolve problems outside of litigation.”
The Mulitple Dwelling Registration Bill will also mitigate some of the adverse effects of the rapid turnover of buildings—especially those in North Brooklyn. Buildings are bought and sold so frequently in New York City that they often change hands without the tenants knowing. During her testimony, Make the Road member Otilia Rios explained that, though her building was sold three years ago, she was only notified after receiving a letter informing her that she had sent her rent to the wrong address: She should now be sending it to 199 Lee Avenue.
“My neighbors and I have no idea who actually owns our building and has control over its daily operations,” Rios said. “Over the last three years, I have had serious problems in my apartment, including a roach and rodent infestation. I have also been unable to get my landlord to provide me with a signed copy of my lease, which I need in order to receive critical government benefits; my landlord has repeatedly sent me invoices claiming that I owe him money which I do not owe. When I call the number provided by my landlord to try and resolve these problems, no one answers, and my calls are not returned.”
In addition to holding all landlords accountable for their actions, the new legislation also includes a set of consequences that will befall the property owners if they do not comply, including fines, civil penalties and his or her right to collect rent revoked.
“Every day, clients come in and ask me, ‘who owns my building?’ ‘how do I get the repairs I need’?,” said Make the Road New York Supervising Attorney John Whitlow. “the only interaction so many tenants have with their landlords is with a mailbox. This legislation will make it easier for tenants to resolve problems outside of litigation in housing court.”
Make the Road Deputy Director Javier Valdes agreed, adding that “this legislation is an important step in creating transparency in property ownership in New York City. We’ll finally find out who is really behind these LLCs.”