Due to a recent NY State Supreme Court ruling, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) is defining “demolition” in the state’s Rent Stabilization Code and Emergency Tenant Protection Regulations, which relate specifically to rent-regulated structures. As it stands, there is no definition of “demolition” in either of these texts. Now, DHCR is seeking to codify its longstanding interpretation, which allows building owners to displace rent regulated tenants in order to undertake a total gut renovation.

DHCR explains why “demolition” should not constitute a full razing of a building as follows: “Firstly, such an absolute standard would automatically disqualify owners of landmarked buildings from obtaining this statutory remedy. Secondly, requiring an owner to knock down the entire exterior shell of a building, in areas as densely populated as New York City and its neighboring counties, could create extremely unsafe conditions to pedestrians and the occupants of neighboring buildings, and could even cause significant structural damage to neighboring or attached edifices.”

The proposal has affordable housing advocates up-in-arms. An email from the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) states, “The Legislature’s intent with this law was to allow for the demolition of dilapidated and dangerous housing in order to allow for the creation of new safe rental units. However… ill-intentioned owners have been applying to simply renovate the interior of buildings and turning them into high end rental and coop units with the intention of getting rid of their rent stabilized tenants. Since the demolition provision allows owners to clear entire buildings and provides no special protection to senior citizens phony demolitions are considered one of the most serious threats to rent stabilized housing that we have seen.”

Another change on DHCR’s agenda has to do with compensation for displaced tenants. The New York Real Estate Lawyers’ blog explains that the payment required to those displaced is currently calculated, “by subtracting the tenant’s monthly rent from a city-wide ‘mean rent’ for similarly-sized apartments and multiplying the difference by 72.” However, this formula does not take into account the major variances in rent within the five boroughs. So, “The DHCR’s proposed rule seeks to base the stipend on a building’s zip code in order to provide tenants who are subject to eviction with more equitable relief.”

Tomorrow from 10am-4pm, DHCR will hold a public hearing on its proposed changes at the Department of City Planning, 22 Reade Street. At 9am, PACC will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall.