The City Council will today introduce a package of 12 bills aimed at increasing protections for tenants who feel the Department of Buildings does not adequately monitor landlords who carry out unpleasant, and often dangerous, building renovations.

"If a landlord has a vacant rent-stabilized unit, he or she can use construction to raise the rent," said Kerri White, a spokeswoman for UHAB, which helped draft the legislation. "But landlords have this other benefit of making life miserable for the tenants in the surrounding units, and maybe getting those tenants to take a buyout. Then they have more vacant units to renovate."

Brothers Joel and Aaron Israel of JBI Management made headlines last year for such tactics—blasting a crater-sized hole in the middle of one family's Bushwick apartment at 98 Linden Street, for example, and taking an axe to the boilers at 300 Nassau Street. The Israels were arrested this April, but many of their tenants endured barely-livable conditions for over a year.

Under current law, a tenant's first recourse when it comes to dangerous construction in her building is to call 311. However, according to a report released today, it takes an average of 46 days to solicit a response from DOB. Of the 150 rent-stabilized tenants surveyed for the report, 87% cited excessive dust in their buildings, and 73% cited construction debris in hallways.

Kosta Maragoudakis has lived at 991 President Street in Crown Heights for 15 years. Between August 2014 and this March, he says that three of the apartments below him, and one directly above him, were constantly under construction. He estimates that between his building and adjoining 993 President, about 12 families took buyouts.

"This wasn't renovating," he said. "This was gutting. There were jackhammers six days a week, from 7:00 a.m. The construction workers would generally leave at 6:00 p.m., but I'd sometimes find them doing construction as late as 8:00 p.m. There was dust in the hallways every day, and debris and construction materials throughout the building. They would leave the front door open and be really loud. In my opinion it was on purpose."

A stop work order was issued in December, but the construction persisted. "I would call the police, and the workers would stop for a little while. HPD would show up, knock on the door where the construction was happening, and when no one answered, they would just leave."

As for the DOB, "They had an even slower response time than HPD."

One of the bills being introduced today would require the DOB to inspect all construction projects in buildings that are more than 10% occupied, or are owned by landlords who have previously been found guilty of harassment. Under current law, certified landlords have the option to bypass a full DOB inspection, on the condition that they will conduct an inspection themselves.

Another piece of legislation would give the city the power to put liens on apartment buildings with outstanding Environmental Control Board fines. According to White, because landlords don't currently face foreclosure for outstanding fines, they simply let the fines pile up. In other words, "They just don't care."

The bill package also calls for doubling fines for landlords who commence construction without a permit (from four times the permit fee up to eight), as well as those who continue construction after a stop work order has been issued (from $5,000 to $10,000 for the first violation).

Councilmembers also hope to curb the tendency of landlords to classify their buildings as unoccupied, even when they are full of tenants. This way, landlords have tended to avoid drafting plans that outline safe construction practices.

Additionally, a new DOB unit would respond specifically to complaints about non-permitted construction work. Councilmember Stephen Levin says that the unit would aim to respond to complaints within two hours.

In a statement issued this morning, a DOB spokesman defended the department's efforts to protect tenants from abuse. "Working with HPD, we’ve inspected and enforced violations at hundreds of sites to hold non-compliant owners accountable," he said. "The City jointly formed the Tenant Harassment Prevention Taskforce with the precise mission of expediting enforcement and, where needed, criminal prosecution against owners that put their tenants at risk."