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Posted on: March 23, 2021

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan Unveils Historic Fair Housing Legislation

HOUSING SOTC

Date: March 23, 2021
Contact: David Galin


ALBANY, NY – Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan joined City officials and housing advocates to unveil historic fair housing legislation that would empower the City’s Buildings & Regulatory Compliance Department to proactively address building emergencies, modernize the City’s Rental Dwelling Registry, and create the first Good Cause Eviction Law in New York State.

This comprehensive legislation will create transformative fair housing rules designed to further stabilize City neighborhoods by ensuring landlords, tenants, and the City have the tools needed to provide secure and quality housing in Albany. This legislation has become even more timely as the housing crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more widespread.

These changes will also improve the relationship between a landlord and tenant by mandating landlords educate tenants on their rights and responsibilities. This legislation empowers the City to step into the shoes of a property owner to make necessary repairs and charge the property owner, rather than deem a building unsafe and unfit – working to decrease the number of vacant, abandoned, and sometimes demolished, buildings. This legislation also allows the Department of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance to revoke a residential occupancy permit when an owner seriously neglects their property.

The legislation is designed to:

Proactively Addressing Building Emergencies 

  • Empower the City of Albany Department of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance to take more aggressive action to repair easily-fixed items rather than declare a building unsafe and unfit (thereby forcing the displacement of residents) and bill the owner for the cost of the repair.
  • Create a fee to be charged to the owners of buildings which have been declared unsafe and unfit by the City of Albany Department of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance to cover the cost of responding to and addressing unsafe and unfit buildings.
  • Make it illegal to tamper with an unsafe and unfit placard without addressing the code violations which required the unsafe and unfit order.

Residential Occupancy Permit Updates

  • ROPs will have to be renewed every two years, as opposed to the two-and-a-half years required now.
  • Impose a late fee for delayed ROP renewals.
  • Require posting of ROP at building, with the ROP to include emergency contact information, code enforcement contact information, and tenant advocacy resources information.
  • Allow an ROP to be revoked for willful failure to correct serious code violations.

Implement a Good Cause Eviction Law

  • Build upon a framework already in place in eviction proceedings by codifying common sense grounds for eviction, including: (1) failure to pay rent; (2) substantive lease violation; (3) unreasonable refusal to allow the landlord access to the premises; (4) illegal use of a unit in violation of an order; (5) nuisance, criminal activity, or illegal activity; or a landlord’s (6) recovery of the premises, subject to conditions; (7) entry into an enforceable, arms-length contract for sale of the property; or (8) receipt of tenant’s prior consent to vacate the premises.

This legislation was drafted by the City of Albany’s Cities RISE team – a group of officials from the Departments of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance, Corporation Counsel, Administrative Services, Planning and Development, and Community Development Agency – who spent more than a year surveying landlords and tenants, holding targeted community discussions, completing extensive research into what other municipalities across the state and nation are doing to combat the housing crisis, and working with various Common Council Members to fine-tune these proposals. The City of Albany Cities RISE program is supported by a $1 million grant from New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

Four local laws – F, G, H, and I of 2021 – are sponsored by Councilmembers Balarin, Conti, Anane, and Fahey, respectively, and will be introduced to the Albany Common Council for further deliberation and consideration.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said, “Since becoming mayor, my administration has committed itself to improving quality of life and attracting investment – and one of the most impactful ways to do that is by combatting blight. This historic, transformative legislation will do just that, and I am so proud of our Cities RISE team for working tirelessly to get us to this point, and to Councilmembers Fahey, Conti, Anane, and Balarin for supporting our efforts. I look forward to working with tenants, landlords, housing advocates, and the Common Council to ensure this legislation is enacted and continue creating a city where every neighborhood works.”

6th Ward Common Councilmember Richard Conti said, "Access to safe affordable housing is a human right as well as a public health priority. These proposals will strengthen access to housing as well as streamlining the Building Department's inspection and enforcement authority.  They also provide the tools necessary to address unsafe and unfit building conditions."

7th Ward Common Councilmember Cathy Fahey said, “There are many rental properties that are in deplorable condition and these much-needed changes to the housing code will help ensure our residents live in safe and healthy homes, and that swift, effective action is taken against landlords who do not follow the law."

10th Ward Common Councilmember Owusu Anane said, “This proposed legislation will allow the City of Albany to take a more proactive approach in improving our housing stock and preventing blight in many of our neighborhoods. We are asking property owners to do the right thing - to do their part - and maintain their properties and make needed repairs, or we will do it for them in an effort to prevent blight before it starts. Today is a great day and I am confident this legislation will help significantly improve the quality of life in Pine Hills and our other neighborhoods.”

11th Ward Common Councilmember Alfredo Balarin said, “This legislation will not only protect tenants, neighborhoods, and homeowners from absentee landlords, but it will also protect responsible landlords. This will hold everyone to the same standards and prevent tenant intimidation.”

Maria Markovics, Co-Chair, Housing For All, said “Housing For All, a coalition of housing and human service providers, neighborhood activists, and concerned citizens seeking to expand and preserve the supply of affordable housing in the City of Albany, welcomes the proposed changes to the Albany City Code.  Such measures, as allowing the Building Department to take action to make repairs to prevent closing buildings thus forcing the residents into shelter, requiring a landlord to have a good cause to evict someone from their home, and adding greater accountability in the ROP process, are significant steps toward housing equity.  Making housing more safe and secure for renters helps to stabilize and strengthen Albany’s neighborhoods for everyone.”

Rebecca Garrard, Campaigns Manager for Housing Justice for Citizen Action New York, said, “We are grateful to the Mayor’s office for their recognition of the needs of tenants in the City of Albany.  For too long, low-income, and Black and brown tenants have suffered in dangerous conditions with no ability to advocate for repairs or hold bad landlords accountable.  The inclusion of Good Cause protections in this bill is the first step in building a city which protects tenants and discourages displacement.”

Laura Felts, United Tenants Association, said, “Good Cause eviction protections and better code enforcement is essential for Albany. Renters comprise more than 60% of the population in the City of Albany and have been disproportionately impacted by the fallout of COVID19. Tenants deserve fundamental rights to housing security which are equitably afforded by Good Cause eviction protections. In 2019, the rental housing landscape in Albany was already overwhelmingly unstable – with 4,120 proceedings for eviction filed in Albany City Court and over half of Albany’s tenants experiencing housing cost burden. These persistent and devastating housing issues are amplified in the context of the pandemic and overwhelmingly impact Black & brown renters. The very simple requirement that landlords, most of whom do not live in the neighborhoods which suffer most from the demoralizing impacts of no-fault and retaliatory evictions, have a valid & material reason to seek the removal of Albany residents from their housing will afford our community rights to basic dignity and stability.”

Marisa Franchini, Corporation Counsel, said “As a City we’re looking forward to using the tools provided in this legislation to better serve Albany residents to stabilize and strengthen their neighborhoods as we recover from a very precarious year. We’re confident that what we do with this legislation will serve as a model program for municipalities across New York State.”

Rick LaJoy, Director, Department of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance, said, “These proposals are meant to be tools we can use to help mitigate the quality-of-life issues we deal with in the City. These measures will also help in our preemptive approach to combatting blight.”

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