Dozens of tenants and advocates hosted a rally at San Damiano Mission in Greenpoint last Thursday to discuss the changes they’re pushing in the Loft Law, which was first passed in 1982.
According to New York City Loft Tenants member Eve Sussman, the law needs improvements, especially after it was amended in 2010 with specific language that expanded the law but left many tenants out.
“Some of it was inserted in 2010 by Mayor Bloomberg that’s really devastating for tenants. It creates technicalities that are quite destructive, stupid and exclusionary,” she said. “They mean people who normally would be covered by the loft law can’t be covered because they can’t meet these technicalities.”
Those “technicalities” include street or yard-facing windows, basement and other use exclusions. The amendments also imposed a fast-approaching June 15th application deadline that advocates want extended or abolished altogether.
“It used to be, when the law was created in 1982, if you met the eligibility requirements, you could apply anytime,” Sussman said. “But in 2010, they created this artificial deadline, which is completely arbitrary and made up.
“It’s ridiculous to make a law and then make it null and void by putting in a deadline, which means the law is useless,” she added. “That was the point.”
Sussman said excluding many loft tenants from protections could prove harmful. Live and work spaces won’t be brought up to building codes, and fewer tenants will enter rent-stabilization, which currently governs a million units in New York City, she said.
“More rent-stabilized units means more affordable housing and less people being displaced and our neighborhoods becoming less corporatized,” she said. “The eating up, of especially Greenpoint and Williamsburg, we hope will get slowed down.”
Loft advocates face a tough deadline, as the Legislature is set to end session by June 21. That gives them just a few weeks to push legislation that would ease the restrictions set in 2010.
“We have five specific asks on our agenda,” Sussman said, which includes repealing the exclusions and the June 15 application deadline, making rent milestones and unit sizes permanent and updating eligibility.
“We think we’re going to get some of them, but you really don’t know until the end,” she added. “Often in the last days of session, two or three days before the end, you learn if your bill is going to go through or not.”
The tenant protections afforded to loft residents are important to people like Arthur Purvis, who built out his live-work space in South Williamsburg over a decade. His building included recording studios, a furniture shop and even a bike shop.
But in November 2014, Purvis said the Department of Buildings (DOB) came and ordered the building vacated. The residents got into a tussle with the landlord, whom Purvis said wanted to evict them.
After a protracted battle, which is still being decided in court, Purvis said they applied for protections under the Loft Law when the extension was passed. He called it a “lifesaver.”
“Because it helped us, we feel like it needs to be expanded,” he said. “Anybody who qualifies shouldn’t be excluded because of some arbitrary deadline.”
At last Thursday’s rally, tenants and advocates vowed to go up to Albany as frequently as possible in the next few weeks to lobby for changes. They found allies in their local legislators, including Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, who is sponsoring the bill, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.
“This is like deja vu all over again, didn’t we do this once before?” Lentol said, referring to the fight to get the initial Loft Law passed in 1982. “This should be a very easy one, but in Albany it seems that everything is tough, and we have to fight for every inch of our rights.”
The North Brooklyn lawmaker said not every law passed is perfect, and often legislators have to improve them. The Loft Law is no exception, he said.
“It is ridiculous that this law has an expiration date,” he said. “That’s a disgrace.”
Loft tenants have another supporter in Councilman Stephen Levin, who himself is a loft tenant. He encouraged tenants to keep fighting for change, highlighting the importance of rent-stabilization.
“The bedrock of affordable housing in New York City is rent-stabilized housing,” Levin said. “That’s what gives people rights of tenancy.”
Noting just how tough it is nowadays to find an affordable apartment, he urged the loft tenants to do what they can to keep their live-work spaces.
“The reality is, if you have an affordable apartment, a place you call home, and for many of you a loft you built out yourself with your own blood, sweat and tears,” Levin said, “you’ve got to hold onto that with everything you’ve got.”
Chuck DeLaney, the tenant representative on the New York City Loft Board, is a veteran of the 1982 fight for the Loft Law. He urged residents to “speak truth to power” as advocates gear up for Albany.
“There are people close to losing their lofts, and we can’t allow that to happen,” he said. “We’ve done this, we’re going to do this again.”