Mayor Eric Adams has until Friday to veto the “eviction by citation” bill the City Council passed at the tail end of the last administration. He should: It would punish more than 1,600 SoHo and NoHo residents with steep fines for the crime of not being artists.
Our new Manhattan district attorney decided that armed robbery should be treated like shoplifting, and our new mayor just said $650 fines for small businesses are too high, so the only New Yorkers facing increased penalties in 2022 could be hundreds of public-school families like mine, working people and senior citizens who have lived in their homes for decades but are not “certified” by a city board as artists.
The old “loft laws” that meant to protect artists whose loft occupancy helped transform SoHo in the last century have needed an overhaul for decades. Hundreds of families are out of compliance with the Joint Live-Work Quarters for Artists rules, which the city hasn’t enforced for half a century. If the council-passed legislation goes into effect, any residents not certified as artists will be hit with huge fines.
The city’s failures are many: Many local artists were not certified because the certification process is onerous and byzantine; widows and widowers of certified artists find themselves out of compliance; and families, like mine, that moved to SoHo after the city’s prolonged policy of JLWQA nonenforcement will soon face steep fines — with no guaranteed pathway to gaining lawful compliance.
The cruel fine schedule amounts to “eviction by citation” for residents who can’t pay the steep fines or the cost of legal compliance, which can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars when trying to make an 1890 apartment comply with current code, in addition to a conversion fee of $100 per square foot.
Do the laws need to be updated to reflect the reality of who lives here now? Yes. Is this bill a reasonable way to accomplish the goal? Not even close.
The fines start at a whopping $15,000 and reach $25,000, the highest on the Department of Buildings schedule and a special exception to the City Administrative Code, which otherwise prohibits fines of this magnitude for violations that are not immediately dangerous. To put that in perspective, the city imposes $10,000 fines for operating a crane without a license and for not reporting a fatality on a work site.
Cooking dinner for your kids while not being a certified artist should not trigger exceptional fines. Our local leaders imposed an eviction moratorium throughout much of the pandemic, which protected families that stopped paying their rent. In contrast, the families being targeted by this mean-spirited law pay their bills — mortgages, co-op fees and taxes — and should be offered a clear, non-punitive way to continue living in their homes and bring their units into compliance.
This poorly drafted legislation was rushed through with no opportunity for the community to be heard. Former Councilwoman Margaret Chin introduced Intro 2443-A without a single co-sponsor — very unusual — Nov. 9, and it went to public hearing that same day. There was no impact study of potential displacement, no public-input opportunity for the affected communities and no review by the community board or borough president. Families deserve better than this harried and deficient process.
Adams has the power to veto this cruel, unfair and harmful legislation. The council passed it and sent it to former Mayor Bill de Blasio Dec. 15, and he declined to sign it. It will become law if Adams doesn’t veto it by Friday, 30 days after it passed.
Our new mayor is off to a great start with fantastic common-sense solutions to get our city back on track, such as keeping our schools open. He should veto the previous council’s bad idea and give SoHo and NoHo families a clear and fair path to compliance.
Maud Maron is a SoHo resident, public-school parent and parent education advocate.