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Is no-harassment certificate a powerful new tool for NYC renters?

The imagery spotlighting an entrenched reality of the New York City housing universe is both stark and vivid. A recent article in a national publication references "predatory developers encircling [tenants'] neighborhoods." It couples that language by noting a new tool serving as a "preemptive strike" that besieged renters can employ to combat landlords' vulture-like conduct that threatens housing affordability and security.

That tool goes by the acronym CONH, which is shorthand for the so-called Certificate of No Harassment recently passed by the City Council. The certificate is the key feature of an initiative now at the pilot stage that the publication The Nation stresses could become "a major new legal shield for tenants to resist and redress landlord abuses."

The CONH is intended to function as a first-line safeguard in instances where questions can reasonably be posed concerning a landlord's stated motives for performing renovations on rent-stabilized city properties. Maintenance or repair work done on a tenant's unit might be a landlord's good-faith response to a real problem. Conversely, and has often proven to be the case, a patch-up job can be undertaken solely to jack up the price on a vacated unit sufficient to re-let it at market rates.

Persons who think that a question-the-landlord perspective is overly cynical should consider this: Reportedly, NYC landlords have harassed a renter into leaving an apartment, done a "quick renovation job" and then taken that unit out of rent-regulated stock more than 16,000 times since 2015.

That reality is what centrally informs the CONH. The process involving it (applicable to special-coverage areas across the city that are progressively growing) mandates that a landlord seeking to do renovations first obtain a permit from the New York City Department of Buildings. Inspectors there will vet that request by checking past history for evidence of tenant harassment or other misconduct. Negative findings will result in both permit denial and a duty to permanently set aside a portion of properties at reduced rental rates.

As noted, the CONH initiative is currently at an early process. Legions of proponents hope it quickly gains solid traction and turns into a materially effective tool protecting tenants' rights.

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