On Thursday, the Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony in support of a package of bills that would curb the abuses of three-quarter house operators and help tenants assert their rights and access more stable housing resources.
Three-quarter houses are typically one or two-family dwellings that have been converted to boarding houses by cramming dozens of beds into every corner of the building. They are often characterized by Illegal occupancy, extreme overcrowding, persistent health and safety violations, failure to acknowledge tenancy rights, fraudulent use of public benefits by operators, and serious fire safety hazards. Many three-quarter house tenants have struggled with homelessness, the criminal justice system or substance addiction, which makes them particularly vulnerable to landlords who would put their health and safety at risk for the sake of profit.
For many years under the previous mayoral administration, the Department of Homeless Services made direct referrals of homeless individuals to these unsafe living situations. Following persistent advocacy by the Coalition and The Legal Aid Society, the Department of Homeless Services promulgated a rule in 2010 that prohibited shelters from referring adults to illegal three-quarter houses, and a City task force has since made progress in identifying and fixing unsafe housing conditions at existing sites. Still, three-quarter houses continue to receive referrals from other sources, and many tenants do not know their rights.
In an effort to protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous landlords who exploit them for profit, the New York City Council has introduced five bills to address the problem from multiple angles. The Coalition and the Legal Aid Society testified in support of these bills:
Intro 1164 would require HRA to send information about tenancy rights to all recipients of the public assistance shelter allowance. This bill would provide a basic level of education about tenants’ rights to those most at risk of illegal eviction and could allow individuals to access homelessness prevention resources before becoming homeless. This bill would build on the City’s already-extensive efforts to prevent homelessness and provide legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers.
Intro 1166 would require the City’s Task Force on Three-Quarter Housing to publicly report on its activities. This bill would provide public oversight about the City’s efforts to curb the use of these illegal dwellings.
Intro 1167 would remove the 90-day deadline for vulnerable tenants to establish their eligibility for relocation services from HPD. HPD is required by law to provide emergency relocation services to people who are displaced from their homes by City-issued vacate orders, including three-quarter house residents. HPD emergency relocation services are often an individual’s last, best chance to move into stable housing. Last year, over nearly universal objection by tenants and advocates, HPD adopted a rule automatically denying relocation services if a displaced person applies more than 90 days after the date of the vacate order. Many three-quarter house residents pursue alternatives to shelter when they are displaced before seeking HPD’s help. Removal of this deadline would open access to vital housing resources for many individuals who make initial unsuccessful attempts to find alternative solutions to homelessness.
Intro 1168 aims to prevent unscrupulous and abusive landlords from profiting from referrals to substance abuse treatment programs that may not be suitable for an individual tenant’s needs. The intro would thus prevent hundreds of adults from being forced into treatment that is neither effective nor necessary for fear of losing their housing.
Intro 1171 would expand the types of acceptable documentation of residency that HPD must accept when someone is applying for emergency relocation services. We have seen many clients who were denied relocation services by HPD on the basis that they did not have the sort of lease a tenant in a more traditional apartment setting might be able to present. Three-quarter house tenants are almost never offered such documents by their landlords.
The full testimony can be read here.