Testimony of the Real Estate Board of New York to The Committee on Housing and Buildings of the New York City Council Concerning Oversight on COVID-19 and Re-opening Commercial Spaces and Int. 2033

Alexander Shapanka

Senior Analyst, Policy & Planning

November 9, 2020

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The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. REBNY thanks the Committee for the opportunity to testify on both the safe reopening of commercial spaces amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as well as proposed legislation to create an interim certificate of occupancy that would allow for safe occupancy on certain floors while work continues in other parts of the building.

REBNY shares in the Council’s concern for public health. Since the magnitude of the crisis became apparent, our members have acted thoughtfully and aggressively to protect the health and safety of staff, residents and employees. As New York City entered phase two of New York Forward, which allowed for the reopening of real estate services and commercial space, we continued to prioritize public health as the City restarted its economy. REBNY’s efforts include launching an online Coronavirus Resource Hub that centralizes public health and government regulations relevant to the industry. Moreover, in collaboration with SEIU 32BJ, Realty Advisory Board, Local 94 and BOMA, we developed guidelines and best practices on key issues for the industry as it works to maintain safe conditions for tenants. We continue to monitor and update this guidance as the circumstances in the City and State change (see Appendix).

Throughout the pandemic, REBNY has found good communication to be essential in safeguarding public health. To that end, we have been in constant communication with both City and State government to identify health concerns, and we have hosted regular calls with both our management and brokerage members to keep them apprised of regulations and take feedback to public officials. We hope to maintain that level of communication with the City and State as cases yet again crest upward.

We are also proud to have partnered with the City and State in identifying spaces, such as hotels, and other resources needed to support healthcare providers, first responders and the homeless population. With colder weather entering NYC, now more than ever, the City needs to protect its most vulnerable populations. REBNY encourages the Council and the City to better serve the homeless population, not just in finding additional space to safely socially distance, but to also provide the needed supportive professional and social services that foster success and have been promised for locations outside of the traditional shelter system.

Finally, as more activities are forced indoors with the winter weather approaching, we ask the City to ensure that its health and safety guidance is consistent with that of the State and CDC. Currently, we are receiving questions about conflicting regulations. For example, DOHMH guidance suggests non-hospitalized individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for 10 days, while State and CDC guidance suggests 14-days and in some instances allows for testing to end the quarantine early. In addition, we encourage the City to align its testing protocols for safe re-entry with the State guidance as that continues to be updated. Consistency of required and suggested practices between the different levels of government is essential to avoiding confusion and protecting public health.

REBNY remains vigilant, ready to serve in developing and implementing additional guidance and health precautions as a civic partner in the health and recovery of our great city. What follows is more specific comments to Introduction 2033 regarding Interim Certificates of Occupancy:

BILL: Int. 2033-2020

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to statements of compliance, issuance and posting requirements of certificates of occupancy and interim certificates of occupancy.

SPONSORS: Council Member Cornegy (at request of the Mayor)

Int. 2033 would create a new interim certificate of occupancy (C of O) that would authorize the occupancy of certain completed floors prior to the completion of permitted construction in the building. The interim certificate of occupancy will function similarly to the existing temporary C of O but with a couple of important distinctions – the interim C of O will not need to be renewed every 90 days and will remain in effect until all the building construction is completed and the building receives its permanent C of O.

REBNY fully supports this legislation and thanks the Department of Buildings (DOB) for our many conversations and continued partnership on this issue. The bill would not only help reduce delays in which buildings receive their permanent C of O and get tenants into their spaces faster, it will also alleviate some administrative burden on DOB, allowing the Department to refocus the saved time and resources on the countless other matters for which it is responsible.

We believe Council could further strengthen the legislation by clarifying what will qualify for a temporary versus an interim C of O. Similarly, the bill could more clearly define the requirements for the permanent C of O compared to those of the interim.

Thank you for the consideration of these points.

Download the full testimony and appendix here.