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Sex And The Super(s)

OK, it’s been two months since Senator Schumer announced to the press that he was proposing legislation that would protect residents in New York, and across the country, from sex offender supers, after a convicted rapist who was a super for three small buildings on the Upper West Side was found to have traded sex for rent reductions with residents. It turns out the issue was raised weeks before by New York State Assemblyman Michah Kellner. The two have joined forces to keep us safe.

So where do things stand now that the cameras have stopped rolling?  I called the Senator’s office to get a copy of the bill only to be told there is no bill, at least not a bill number, which means there’s nothing in writing for any of us to see. Yet but a month after proposing to ban sex offender supers, the Senator voted to allow all sex offenders continued access to Viagra. This despite the fact that back in 2005 he called for legislation to stop sex offenders from receiving Medicaid reimbursement for Viagra saying, “giving sex offenders Viagra is like giving convicted murderers an assault rifle when they get out of jail.”

Assemblyman Kellner does have a bill. (AO9858, S6760) It would impose an outright prohibition on hiring as a superintendent anyone registered as a level 2 or 3 sex offender in the state.

Based on his press release, the Senator’s non-bill appears to contemplate a more cumbersome procedure. Rather than an unconditional ban, it would make landlords and property managers liable for providing keys to sex offender supers without disclosing such conviction and obtaining signed approval from building residents.

None of us want perverts in our apartments.  The real question is whether the individual incident that sparked sudden interest in the issue is an isolated departure from otherwise effective screening and hiring processes or whether it is the tip of an iceberg that warrants putting in place a legal mechanism for continuing oversight, and if it is, whether the proposed law would achieve the intended goal.

 One thing’s for sure. The Assemblyman’s bill doesn’t provide equal protection for all apartment dwellers.  It is a pastiche cobbled together by adding sections to several pre-existing state laws – the Multiple Dwelling Law and the Real Property Law.

The Bill prohibits owners from hiring as a superintendent any person registered as a sex offender.  By definition, that includes landlords of rental buildings. Arguably, it would extend to co-op and condo boards who are the representatives of collective owners, though given what the of the rest of the Bill says, it is not clear if that is the intent.

From there things get murkier. The Bill provides that regardless of any law requiring you to turn over your key to the landlord, no tenant shall be required to give access to her apartment to any person who is a sex offender.  But how are you supposed to know? Is a good faith belief that the super is a pervert sufficient to save you from possible eviction for refusing to provide access?

 On its face the provision applies to rental tenants.  It probably also would apply to co-op shareholders, who in addition to being owners, are tenants under their proprietary leases. In fact a number of laws originally passed to protect renters from overreaching landlords, have been held to cover co-op owners, including The Pet Law, and The Roommate Law.  But odds are it would not apply to condo owners who own their apartments outright, and thus are not tenants.

The Bill makes it unlawful and a violation of the Warranty of Habitability for an owner of a building to subject a tenant to sexual harassment. This Warranty, originally passed to protect renters, has been extended by judicial fiat to tenant/shareholders in co-ops, but not to condo unit owners, who have been specifically excluded from its scope by the courts.

The bottom line is that the Bill as drafted is internally inconsistent, potentially applying to all apartment dwellers for some purposes, but not others. It is also externally illogical because, assuming such a bill is needed, no rational justification exists for affording renters more protection than owners from sex offenders, or differentiating between co-op and condo owners.  It also appears at odds with Senator Schumer’s would-be legislation, which according to his press release would apply to any multi-family apartment building, not just rentals.

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One Response to “Sex And The Super(s)”

  1. carol says:

    Thank you. All political hay-making while the sun was shining. As a former tenant, now that landlord Katz has succeeded in evicting me in retaliation with the complicity of Homeless Court, I am sickened and outraged. And there is nothing I can do about it, alone.

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