March 13, 2008

Ms. Leslie Torres
Deputy Commissioner for Rent Administration
New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR)
92-31 Union Hall Street
Jamaica, NY 11433

Dear Ms. Torres:

I am writing in response to your call for comments on the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal's (DHCR) code with respect to the standards used to determine a demolition, as well as the stipend methodology for tenants displaced by a demolition.

I am pleased that DCHR is revisiting its building demolition policy. This review comes at a critical moment because, as you know, in recent years a rising number of building owners have claimed to be demolishing their buildings in order to exercise a provision of the Rent Stabilization Code that allows an owner who "intends in good faith to demolish the building" to evict rent-stabilized tenants. Regrettably, many owners who have filed demolition applications have been operating in bad faith, passing off renovations of existing units as demolitions, thereby exploiting the law so they may evict longtime tenants and low-income individuals and convert their properties into luxury housing or other high-profit ventures.

As DHCR revisits the building demolition policy, I urge you to strengthen the regulations, to the extent that it is within your purview, as follows:

  • DHCR should define gDemolitionh as the gcomplete razing of the entire building, including all exterior walls, in order to construct a new building with the same or greater number of rental housing units,h as proposed by Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) in Assembly bill 5742.
  • Within five days of granting a permit to demolish rent-regulated housing, DHCR should notify in writing the community board and City Councilmember for the district in which the project is located, as proposed by City Councilmember Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan) in Council Introduction 340.
  • DHCR should re-instate its policy of requiring formal hearings in all demolition cases. The lack of such scrutiny denies tenants a fair opportunity to be heard and increases the likelihood that phony demolitions will inadvertently be approved.
  • DHCR should require that owners provide all the pertinent supporting documentation upon filing for a demolition, including the actual plans filed with the local Department of Buildings, financial proof that the owners can afford to demolish and create a new building, as well as proof that the owners intend to include affordable housing units in the new building.
  • DCHR should permit discovery in demolition proceedings, as is allowed in other administrative proceedings.
  • DHCR should require that owners of non-SRO buildings obtain a Certificate of No Harassment in order to qualify for non-renewal of leases due to demolition. Tenant harassment should not be rewarded, and this change would prevent owners from subjecting their tenants to serious harassment with the purpose of compelling them to leave their homes.
  • DHCR should update the stipend methodology used to determine the amount of compensation owners must provide to tenants who are evicted due to demolition to reflect the actual rental cost of comparable apartments in the same neighborhood. The compensation currently provided to tenants when they are forced out of their homes due to demolition is wholly inadequate and in some cases nonexistent. Ideally, owners who intend to demolish their buildings should find apartments of comparable prices in the same neighborhood for the tenants being evicted, as well as pay for the moving expenses.

I hope that you will seriously consider these suggested changes, as well as those that will likely be put forward by tenant rights advocates. The abuse of the demolition provision, originally intended to allow owners of seriously dilapidated, dangerous buildings to replace them with safe housing, not only displaces tenants from their homes and destroys existing communities but exacerbates the already-severe lack of affordable housing in New York City.

Thank you for inviting me to comment on DHCRfs review of its policy on building demolition. It is my hope that the review would result in a fair and balanced policy.


Thomas K. Duane
New York State Senate
29th District

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