New York City Passes Historic Climate Legislation

The nation’s largest and most economically influential city passed a historic bill Thursday capping climate-changing pollution from big buildings and mandating unprecedented cuts to greenhouse gases. 

The City Council approved the legislation in a 45-to-2 vote Thursday afternoon, all but ensuring its passage by a mayor eager to burnish his climate bona fides ahead of a potential run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. 

“We are on the precipice of climate disaster, and New York City is acting,” Corey Johnson, the council speaker, said in a statement. “I hope other cities follow suit.”

The effort demonstrates one of the clearest examples yet of what a municipal version of the Green New Deal, the national movement for a multi-trillion dollar climate-friendly industrial plan, might look like. The legislation is forecast to spur thousands of blue-collar jobs and make it easier for the city to take advantage of future state and federal funding for clean energy projects and climate change-ready infrastructure.  

The measure, introduced by Councilman Costa Constantinides, a Democrat from Queens, is the centerpiece of a suite of six climate bills packaged together as the Climate Mobilization Act. 

The legislation sets emissions caps for various types of buildings over 25,000 square feet; buildings produce nearly 70% of the city’s emissions. It sets steep fines if landlords miss the targets. Starting in 2024, the bill requires landlords to retrofit buildings with new windows, heating systems and insulation that would cut emissions by 40% in 2030, and double the cuts by 2050.

“This legislation will radically change the energy footprint of the built environment and will pay off in the long run with energy costs expected to rise and new business opportunities that will be generated by this forward thinking and radical policy,” said Timur Dogan, an architect and building scientist at Cornell University.

Its proponents bill the legislation as the largest single mandate to cut climate pollution by any city in the world. The new rules would create demand for more than 3,600 construction jobs per year, by one estimate, and another 4,400 jobs in maintenance, services and operations, fueled by the sheer magnitude of the investment required to meet the emissions goals.

“The market signals sent by this legislation are significant,” Nilda Mesa, a senior research scientist at Columbia University and a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, wrote in Crain’s New York. “The largest real estate market in the U.S. will be seeking products and services to cut energy.”

The Climate Mobilization Act’s other components include a bill that orders the city to complete a study over the next two years on the feasibility of closing all 24 oil- and gas-burning power plants in city limits and replacing them with renewables and batteries. Another that establishes a renewable energy loan program. Two more that require certain buildings to cover roofs with plants, solar panels, small wind turbines or a mix of the three. And a final bill that tweaks the city’s building code to make it easier to build wind turbines. 

The cost to landlords is high. The mayor’s office estimated to The New York Times that the total cost of upgrades needed to meet the new requirements would hit $4 billion. 

There are loopholes for houses of worship and buildings with at least one rent-regulated apartment in hopes of preventing the law from triggering large-scale improvements that would allow landlords to jack up rent and evict working-class tenants. The Real Estate Board of New York, the powerful lobby that represents large developers and property owners, came out against the legislation last year, arguing it provided too many carve-outs for smaller buildings and put an unfair burden on big landlords. 

But the lawmakers forged ahead anyway, vowing to update the legislation if state legislators in Albany win better protections later this year for the city’s dwindling stock of roughly 990,000 rent-regulated apartments.

The policies omitted from the Climate Mobilization Act are significant. The package does not include an existing bill that proposes creating a new city agency to direct and oversee New York’s adaptation efforts, or another mandating all-electric school buses. Those are expected to come up for a vote later this year. 

Other proposals have yet to make it into legislation. Those include a plan to close the notorious prison on Rikers Island and convert the 413-acre facility into a solar farm, water treatment plant and a blueprint for a wind energy manufacturing hub on the rapidly gentrifying industrial waterfront of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. 

Nor does the legislation set a 100% renewable electricity target for the city that goes beyond the existing rules for city-owned buildings ― something New York City is likely to face greater pressure to do since the Chicago City Council voted to adopt a similar measure last week.

The bill is an imitable first step for a city with a gross domestic product large enough to rank in the top 20 economies. But it represents low-hanging fruit. Nearly 70 percent of New Yorkers live in Brooklyn and Queens, boroughs on the western tip of Long Island, a glacial moraine.

While New York City ordering aggressive emissions cuts raises the likelihood that other big cities will adopt similar policies, the emissions reductions alone will do little to halt surging global temperatures and the subsequent extreme weather and sea level rise. Emissions cuts are “just less disruptive” than new zoning laws and potential rules barring waterfront construction, said John Englander, an oceanographer and president of the International Sea Level Rise Institute.

Still, backers of the bill were elated on Thursday.

“It’s not every day the real estate industry loses a major policy fight and not every day one of the world’s biggest cities passes the world’s biggest cut in pollution,” Pete Sikora, a senior adviser to the climate and housing justice group New York Communities for Change, say after the vote. “Both happened at the same time.” 

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New York City Broker Fee Ban Temporarily Halted By Judge

Broker fees are back for renters, in the latest chapter in a dispute that has roiled New York City’s real estate market over the past week.

A state judge on Monday temporarily halted the implementation of guidance by the New York Department of State (DOS), which said last week that renters would no longer have to pay the fees — ranging from 12% to 15% of a year’s rent — of brokers hired by landlords to market their units.

The DOS had determined, as part of its interpretation of the Statewide Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, passed last year, that landlords would now have to cover broker fees. The new rent regulations also limited security deposits to one month’s rent and capped application fees at $20.

Powerful industry groups, including the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and the New York State Association of REALTORS (NYSAR), along with several major real estate firms, including Corcoran and Douglas Elliman, responded by filing a lawsuit against the state Monday.

The complaint alleged that the impact of the recommendations was “immediate and devastating,” with prospective tenants backing out of their agreements to pay broker commissions and tenants demanding that the fees they already paid be returned.

“The entry today by the Court in Albany of an order temporarily halting the implementation of New York State Department of State’s (DOS) interpretation of the Statewide Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act means that thousands of hardworking, honest real estate agents across New York State can do business in the same way they did prior to last week’s DOS memo without fear of discipline by the DOS,” REBNY President James Whelan and NYSAR President Jennifer Stevenson said in a joint statement. “We look forward to ultimately resolving this matter in Court in the weeks ahead.”

The case will continue in New York State Supreme Court on March 13.

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Real Estate Industry Lawsuit Seeks To Block New York City Broker Fee Ban

In the wake of the New York Department of State’s (DOS) recent headline-grabbing clarification of regulations passed months ago that effectively banned tenants from paying broker fees connected to apartment listings, several major real estate trade associations and brokerage firms plan to file a lawsuit against the state on Monday.

According to a news release distributed Friday by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and the New York State Association of REALTORS, Inc., the lawsuit will allege that the Department of State “usurped its role by engaging in improper rulemaking rather than following the necessary and required legal procedures for implementing a new regulation.”

The agencies are arguing that the way the department announced the rule — with a statement earlier this week, nearly eight months after releasing new rent regulations limiting security deposits to one month’s rent and capping application fees at $20 — has created “widespread disruption” and lost money for landlords and rental agents, as well as prospective tenants.

“We are asking the court to recognize that the Department of State illegally overstepped its role in issuing its new Guidance on rental brokerage commissions,” said James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in a statement announcing the impending lawsuit. “The announcement of this new rule without warning has caused widespread confusion and havoc among dedicated real estate agents and the clients they serve. The sudden decision and the way it was made public was harmful to thousands of hardworking New Yorkers.”

Broker fees generally range from 12% to 15% of a year’s rent, and renters were required to pay them even when the building owner had hired the broker to list and market the property. The fee comes in addition to other common charges, including a security deposit and the first month’s rent.

Those in the industry say that landlords will simply pass the fees on to tenants in the form of rent hikes.

Frederick Warburg Peters, the chief executive officer of Warburg Realty, and also a Forbes contributor, said in a statement to Forbes that the entire real estate industry supports the REBNY in their Article 78 proceeding to stay the implementation of the DOS ruling.

“To attempt such a radical change to the landlord/tenant/agent equilibrium without consulting the major stakeholders shows contempt for many of the stakeholders the DOS purports to serve,” Warburg Peters says. “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss this proposed interpretation of the new rental laws in an orderly and fair manner.”

The announcement has put brokers’ livelihoods at risk, those in the industry say.

“Real estate brokers provide valuable services to the consumer and the property owners and they should be fairly compensated,” said Jennifer Stevenson, president of the New York State Association of Realtors, in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “These regulations will severely and wrongly impact the incomes of hard-working real estate professionals. It is unconscionable that a serious disruption of the marketplace has occurred without any industry input or even proper review by the State Board of Real Estate. We will use every resource available to us to fight against these unreasonable and punitive regulations.”

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Soft in the City: Mandy Lee’s Serene Apartment in Hong Kong

A serious home renovation, the kind that involves more than just a new paint color or a powder room refresh, is an exercise in keeping sane. The months-long disruption, the draining bank account, the incessant dust, the steady stream of strangers in boots—none of it is something that most homeowners want to go through again.

Mandy Lee, the blogger (Lady and Pups) and cookbook author (The Art of Escapism Cooking), lived through the down-to-the-studs ordeal twice…in nine years…in the same apartment.

The first overhaul was in 2010 when she and her husband moved from New York to Hong Kong for his job and bought the apartment. They gutted the space. “I was still clinging to the industrial/lofty aesthetics that we left New York with, and everything was distressed concrete, distressed woods, distressed metal and glass panels,” she says of that renovation. “The kitchen had a concrete wall finish with stainless steel cabinet doors, very ‘you can take the girl out of Brooklyn but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl’—[except that] I’ve never lived in Brooklyn.”

Nine years later, they gutted it again. In between, the couple had moved to Beijing for a few years before moving back to their Hong Kong apartment—and they’d grown up. “We did the first renovation in our late 20s, when our lifestyle and mentality were completely different from where we are in our late 30s,” she says. “The functions and layout no longer fit our current lifestyle.”

The latest redesign still shows an affinity for distressed wood, but everything else has been replaced. Gone is the hardness of concrete and steel; in their place, billowing curtains, soft colors, and textured walls.

Let’s take a tour. And be sure to check out Mandy’s characterful kitchen in our earlier post (Kitchen of the Week: The ‘Angry Food Blogger’ at Home in Hong Kong.)

Photography by Mandy Lee.

Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment living Room Above: “The first design element I knew I wanted was a completely plastered interior, Venetian plaster to be exact.” says Mandy, who ultimately opted for Roman Clay by California company Portola Paints. “We couldn’t find a worker to properly apply it so we ended up doing it ourselves after moving in. It was us a total of six months to completely finish the apartment.”
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment living Room Above: Their third-floor apartment is in an old walk-up building in Happy Valley, a residential neighborhood in Hong Kong. “We prefer it to the new high-rises because the ceiling is slightly higher.” A small balcony is just off the living room. “It’s not much, but I love the corner where I planted an olive tree and some decorative plants to brighten it up.”
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Dining Room Above: Mandy’s favorite part of her home. She sourced almost all the furniture and decorative details from Taobao, the Chinese version of Amazon.
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Wooden Wall Above: “Due to budget, I used plywood for the wood wall that separates the master bedroom from the common area. I custom-stained it with oil and colors to fake a vintage”look and I’m quite happy how it turned out.”
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Front Door Above: “The actual square footage of the apartment is about 1,050 square feet. The original design had two bedrooms with a study, which we turned into a one bedroom with two baths,” says Mandy. The door on the right leads to the guest bathroom.
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Powder room Above: The guest bathroom has artful brooms hanging off a peg rail. Painted textured wallpaper lines the walls here. Mandy’s vision for the redesign was inspired by the patina-heavy, romantic style favored by Jersey Ice Cream Co., which she discovered on Instagram. “I want to give credit to Jersey Ice cream Co, whose aesthetic I literally copied from.”
Lady and the Pups Mandy Lee's Kitchen, Refrigerator Above: A glimpse of the moody green kitchen. Their dogs’ water bowl sits on the tiled palazzo floor. See Kitchen of the Week: The ‘Angry Food Blogger’ at Home in Hong Kong for more pictures of this room.
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Bedroom Above: Entering the master bedroom, where Mandy’s love for distressed wood and aged materials continues.
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Bedroom Above: Curtains conceal the walk-in closet. “I love a floor-to-ceiling curtain, because it creates the illusion of a higher ceiling. Plus it effectively divides the space when I need it to and does so very softly and warmly compared to actual panels. Last but not least, they’re a lot cheaper, too. I like to use natural linen-type materials with a certain level of translucency.”
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Bedroom Above: An antique Chinese low table works as an artful breakfast tray.
Mandy Lee Lady & Pups Hong Kong Apartment Bathroom Above: The master bathroom.

For more on the homes of chefs and foodies, see:

  • Love in Danish: A Chef Couple’s Warm Scandinavian Apartment Above Their Michelin-Starred Restaurant
  • Kitchen of the Week: Seattle Cookbook Author Aran Goyoaga’s Under-Budget Kitchen Remodel
  • 5 Clever, Efficient Ideas to Steal from a Cookbook Author’s Home Kitchen

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