Tenant Organizing Manual
As your group works together to resolve its building problems, or after you have reached a resolution, LHNA suggests that you consider expanding beyond your building's problems by networking with other local and broader groups, as well as becoming tenant advocates in the legislative arena to ensure continued passage of strong tenant protections. We offer some suggestions as to future actions your tenant leadership can take.
Many owners own more than one building and sometimes, the problems which your building is facing are the same as those in the owner's other buildings. Unfortunately, some owners have a pattern in how they maintain (or don't maintain) their buildings.
Your association can consider finding out which other buildings are owned by your owner so that you may ban together with them to resolve the buildings' problems. As the voice of a strong and unified tenants' association is more effective than that of one tenant, so can the collective voice of several tenants' associations result in greater success.
When a new group is organizing and first tries to make its way through the maze of owner/tenant issues, its members may feel fearful, overwhelmed and frustrated. Frequently, hearing the "story" of another tenant group that successfully has resolved (or is resolving) its problems can be the push that the new group needs to mobilize it into action. Experienced tenant leaders can provide peer support and guidance to new groups, and can share information to help the new group save some time in their efforts. They are effective also in providing first-hand information on the process groups must go through to enact their strategies, such as at owner-tenant negotiation sessions, what happens in housing court or at a DHCR informal conference, etc. Again, individual members can be reassured that they are on the right track if they hear directly the experiences of other groups.
As you realize the effectiveness of working together in a tenants' association, consider the same group effort on a block-wide level to resolve common issues affecting your block. Security problems that your building is experiencing may be very similar to those of your neighbors. A block-wide "Neighborhood Watch" campaign, whereby residents are trained by the police to effectively monitor, identify and report criminal activities, can substantially deter and reduce crime and the fear of crime on your block.
As mandated by the New York City Charter, Community Boards (CB) monitor the delivery of city services within each locality. Each of the 59 CB's city-wide are composed of 50 volunteer members who live or work within the area. Manhattan's Upper East Side (East 59th to East 96th Streets, Fifth Avenue to the East River) is designated as Community Board #8.
The local CB office provides general neighborhood information and help with problems related to city services such as police, sanitation, fire, code enforcement, etc. The monthly meetings are open to the public. Committees of the CB meet on a regular basis as well. The CB District Manager holds monthly District Cabinet meetings with officials representing each city agency that delivers local services to discuss local problems, develop plans for improved service delivery and coordinate the actions of the different city agencies.
A key Community Board role relates to land use, including zoning variances requested by developers and builders, air rights, franchises, special permits, etc. Community residents have the right to provide their input and opinions of such applications at public hearings held by the Community Board. Although the final decision for approval or rejection is made by a relevant city agency, i.e. City Planning Commission, Board of Standards and Appeals, Board of Estimate, they frequently follow the recommendations made by the local Community Board.
Two local organizations that monitor the pace of development in this community are FRIENDS OF THE UPPER EAST SIDE HISTORIC DISTRICT and CIVITAS. These volunteer-led membership groups concern themselves with the quality and impact of development on population density, the environment, public services, historic preservation and community values. They work closely with Community Board #8, elected officials, and city agencies to Preserve the character of this community.
All of the laws and regulations effecting rental housing in New York City, whether they originate from the city or State legislature have expiration dates, known as "sunset" clauses. As the laws are due for renewal, or regulations and codes are due for "rewriting," tenants have a prime opportunity to provide input to their local legislators and government officials on how such tenant protections can be revised or strengthened. Either as part of a coalition of tenants' associations, or as an individual tenants' association you can organize letter writing campaigns, testify at public hearings, and make personal visits to those who represent you to provide them with educational and anecdotal information on the needs of tenants.
To be effective in the legislative arena, register to vote, and vote in all elections, including primaries and special elections. The League of Women Voters can provide you with the specific dates for voter registration. Notify tenants in your building of the registration times, and obtain registration forms from the NYC Board of Elections, from a local political club, or from the constituent office of your local elected officials and encourage all tenants in your building to register and vote.
Monitor how your local, state-wide and national elected officials vote within their legislatures on housing issues and tenant protection laws. If you do not agree with their views, be sure to let them know, in writing, by telephone and in person. Elected officials do and must respond to their constituents. If you do agree with them, show them your support.
Several broad-based tenant lobbying groups exist that you can join. These groups meet regularly to discuss tenant protection legislation and regulations. They visit local elected officials and monitor their voting on tenant issues. They review pending legislation, comment on its merit, and advocate for preserving and expanding tenant rights. Their regular trips to Albany are open to any tenant and/or tenants' association who wishes to attend.
On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the EAST SIDE TENANT COALITION (ESTC) lobbies on behalf of Manhattan's 7th and 8th Council Districts, the 65th and 66th State Assembly Districts and the 26th State Senatorial District. They work and coordinate with tenant lobbying groups in other neighborhoods throughout the city.
Other tenant coalitions that address specific issues, rather than broad-based ones, are groups such as the MCI Coalition, CARIP (Coalition Against Rent Increase Pass-Alongs), as well as "ad hoc" groups that organize to advocate for specific bills pending in the City Council, the State Legislature or congress. For information on such groups, contact ESTC.