Governor Signs New Loft Protection Law
Real Estate In-Depth | December 8, 2021
ALBANY—New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Dec. 7 the recent enactment of legislation (S.6950/A.7667) that makes it unlawful to disrupt or fail to provide essential services and habitability for interim multiple dwelling units and allows tenants to pursue a claim in New York City Housing Court.
The bill, which was signed into law by the governor on Dec. 1, makes it unlawful for any loft owner to interrupt, deny, or discontinue essential services or create an uninhabitable environment in a multiple dwelling unit or for any tenants covered by the existing “Loft Law.”
Examples of essential services include heat, hot water, electricity, and gas. Examples of an uninhabitable environment can include one where there are leaks, there is mold, or a lack of building maintenance that creates dangerous conditions. The law became effective Dec. 1, 2021.
“It’s not a luxury to live in a home with essential services like heat and hot water—it’s a basic human right that every New Yorker deserves,” Gov. Hochul said. “This common-sense legislation gives tenants access to redress in housing court when they are denied essential services, a crucial step towards keeping New Yorkers safe in their homes.”
Enacted in 1982, the Multiple Dwelling Law established the Loft Law and created a new class of buildings in New York City known as interim multiple dwellings or “lofts”. Lofts are former commercial and manufacturing loft spaces that are being used as residences. The Loft Law also established the Loft Board to coordinate the legal conversion of these spaces to safe residential units.
Over the past several years, residents of legally-designated “lofts” have been experiencing an increase in harassment and neglect and have not been able to consistently have their grievances addressed in New York City Housing Court, where nearly all other tenants are able to seek redress, state officials noted.
Examples of harassment and neglect include failure to provide basic and essential services, such as heat, hot water, electricity, and gas, as well as failure to maintain safe and appropriate living conditions: failing to fix leaks, remediate mold, and other similar issues. As a result of being unable to have their grievances addressed in housing court, loft tenants have been unable to avail themselves of the increasingly expanded protections New York State and City have broadly enacted for tenants over the last decade, including universal access to free representation in New York City housing court.
Recent court decisions have made it clear that loft tenants could not fully pursue their rights under the more expansive protections provided by New York’s housing laws in housing court, but had to appear before the Loft Board, which had not been fully equipped to address issues of landlord harassment and neglect. This legislation fixes this basic problem and expands the protections for tenants living in lofts from landlord harassment and clarifies that they may pursue certain complaints in housing court, the governor’s office states.
The new law now prohibits a landlord of a loft from cutting essential services to the building once the tenant has filed an application with the Loft Board to normalize the apartment, and the Loft Board has assigned a docket number to the case. Additionally, the legislation prevents landlords from evicting tenants of lofts while a case is pending before the Loft Board and permits the tenant to file a complaint in housing court in addition to the Loft Board. Finally, the legislation allows the tenants to file complaints in housing court and requires the continuation of essential services. Being provided an appropriate living space with necessary amenities should be a universal right, and is in no way unique to loft tenants.
Senator Julia Salazar said, “When the Loft Law was renewed and enhanced in 2019 the intent was to provide protections and a fair process for loft tenants. Issues relating to repairs and habitability ought to be heard in Housing Court, not by the Loft Board, which is not equipped to resolve such questions. I am thankful to Governor Kathy Hochul for signing this legislation which would amend the Loft Law and grant loft tenants the same protections to safe and habitable housing as other tenants.”
Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick said, “It was disappointing to have the courts misread the loft statute. This bill will ensure that all tenants, including loft tenants, have access to housing court in relation to a lack of essential services. This measure clarifies that housing court, not the loft board, is the appropriate venue when loft tenants are seeking redress for housing services issues. Clarifying this access is even more critical as the City Administration’s zoning changes erode previous protections. While the City has referred to state housing regulations, this measure will ensure legal recourse for loft tenants.”
Executive Director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors Genesis Aquino said, “The passage of this bill means more than closing a loophole to allow loft tenants to enforce their right to habitable conditions, it’s a step closer to eliminating substandard housing in New York State. As an organization that fights for tenants’ rights to safe homes, NYS Tenants & Neighbors understand the impact that unsafe housing conditions can have on people’s health, and we commend Governor Hochul for signing the Loft Law Bill and recognizing that all tenants deserve to live decent homes. We also thank Assembly Member Glick and Senator Salazar for cosponsoring the bill for this needed legislation.”