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Vallone Backs Off on Landlord Self-Certification

Posted by TenantNet on December 16, 1997 at 16:40:27:

(McKee tries to take credit for others' work, again)

It appears both City Council Speaker Peter Vallone and Mayor Giuliani
are backing off Councilmember Anthony Weiner's Bill now before City
Council which would allow landlords to self-certify that they have
removed violations.

A demonstration was held Monday in front of Vallone's district
office organized by Astoria Concerned Neighbors, Queens League of United
Tenants, Met Council, West Side SRO Tenants United and other groups. It was
"lively, loud and effective," said Penny LaForest of Queens League of United
Tenants. Vallone came outside and got into his car without speaking to
demonstrators, but smiled and waved to them.

It appeared to several tenant advocates that Tenants and Neighbors'
Michael McKee, who attempted to undermine the demonstration and
who would not publicize it in his flyer, is now trying to take credit for
successfully pressuring Vallone and the Mayor into backstepping by
scheduling a last-minute news conference.

However, according to several tenant advocates, McKee's publicity grab is
all too familiar in that he undercut many tenant efforts during the
Rent Wars last spring and summer and acquiesced to what is now known as
the [Assemblyman Shel] "Silver Sellout" to landlords, and the real
pressure came from many sources including the Queens Civic Congress,
which reportedly opposed the Weiner bill and who had strongly voiced
their objection to Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. Queens
homeowners, who have a high rate of illegal conversions of homes into
apartments, are worried that the next dilution of city housing standards
will be on them.

According the NY Newsday, Vallone was quoted as saying he would
put aside the bill (at least for now).

"It's not a giveaway to landlords," Vallone (D-Astoria) insisted in
a WNYC radio interview with host Brian Lehrer. "But if people are not
understanding it, then it will get shelved this year."

Under the bill, approved last week by the council's Housing
Committee, landlords would be able to have their architects or engineers
certify that old violations have been corrected.

Among the code problems that could be cleared are mice or roach
infestations, broken or faulty windows, leaky ceilings and fire hazards.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani weighed in against the bill after Vallone's
remarks. "A person should not be able to self-certify their violations
away," Giuliani said, adding he expressed his reservations privately
Friday to Vallone.

The mayor's comments put him on the same side as tenant groups with
which he clashed over the city board that regulates rents.

Vallone, at the same time, risks the wrath of tenant organizations
as he sets out to run for governor next year.

There are several aspects of this proposed legislation that
really haven't hit the media.

This past week, Madison Avenue has been closed from bricks
falling from a skyscraper. Inspections have revealed the
original construction was shoddy where the brick facing was
improperly fastened to the building's structure. For years
the Department of Buildings have had a policy where
architects and engineers are allowed to "self-certify"
the method of construction and compliance with the
Building Code. The theory is that no architect or engineer
would put their professional license on the line,
but years have also shown there is little enforcement and
it takes a situation like Madison Avenue to highlight
the problem. It happens much more frequently in smaller
buildings and there's little or no downside for building
owners or their hired architects.

Landlords are correct that the city's remaining 220 inspectors
can't adequately do the job of inspecting the city's housing
and also checking for cleared violations. Tenants have known
this for years. But pretending that violations are corrected
(as this legislation would do) is political nonsense (which
we see too often from both parties). A 1995 audit by NYC
Comptroller Hevesi and Senator Leichter (available on TenantNet)
shows that up to 40% of landlord "certifications" are falsified,
not an insignificant number. The correct thing to do would be
to bring the number of inspectors back to the previous level
of around 800. Would Mr. Vallone or the Mayor consider that?
Tenant Groups would be smart at this time, now that the issue
is focused on city inspections, to push for more inspectors.

Another reason landlords don't want inspectors going back to
their buildings is that inspectors (at least the conscientious
ones) could and are supposed to write new violations they
discover in the process of checking for supposed corrected ones.

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