The City Council on Wednesday, December 6th, approved a new bill, titled Intro 195, that grants tenants the right to report unoccupied apartments within their buildings directly to New York City’s Housing Authority.
The bill’s purpose is to address the widespread issue of tens of thousands of vacant apartments often left vacant by landlords.
Intro 195 empowers tenants to notify the Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) department about any maintenance code violations in apartments via the 311 service.
This includes the authority for city officials to inspect these vacant apartments, especially when they pose potential hazards to neighboring tenants.
Residents have frequently reported problems like garbage accumulation, mold growth, open windows, gas leaks, and rodent infestations in their buildings due to these unoccupied apartments.
Tenant organizer Illapa Sairitupac, associated with the Cooper Square Committee, expressed optimism about the bill’s passage, saying, “We’re feeling very hopeful. We’re not used to getting this far. I’m looking forward to tenants having more power in making sure HPD comes to inspect these units.”
The bill was passed with a majority of 39 to 8 votes.
The legislation responds to a high number of vacant rent-regulated apartments reported in the state — over 60,000 in 2021, decreasing to about 39,000 the following year.
Landlords attribute this vacancy to the 2019 changes in state rent laws, which limit the rent they can charge new tenants after long-term renters move out.
Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, criticized the bill, stating, “This bill will do absolutely nothing to address the current problems with empty rent-stabilized units, or improve renting conditions for tenants.”
Martin added, “If HPD issues violations or writes fines on vacant units, it will just suck more money out of struggling rent-stabilized buildings.”
During a June 6th Council hearing, HPD officials expressed concerns about Bill Intro 195, suggesting it could redirect essential resources from their enforcement efforts.
Councilmember Carlina Rivera, the prime sponsor of Intro 195, expressed frustration with HPD’s initial opposition to the bill, saying, “Dismissing it outright and entirely, it felt offensive.”
However, HPD has now supported the bill and worked closely with the Council for its implementation.
The bill also includes provisions that allow tenants to sue landlords to compel them to open up vacant apartments for inspection.
Jodie Leidecker, an organizer with the Coalition to End Apartment Warehousing, highlighted the significance of this aspect, “That’s huge and very important to tenants.”
The bill now awaits approval from Mayor Eric Adams.