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Property Owners Urge Adams Administration to Keep Weakening Crucial Climate Law

While City Hall says an implementation delay will help bring building owners into compliance, environmental advocates are crying foul.

(Hell Gate)

On Tuesday, following a very bad week for New York state's climate goals, the Adams administration held a hearing on its own attempts at possible climate sabotage—a proposal to weaken the implementation of Local Law 97, the City's landmark climate change law that mandates the systematic decarbonization of New York City's buildings. At the hearing, climate activists pleaded with the City to follow through and fully enforce Local Law 97 beginning next year, per the original timeline. The hearing, which stretched on for almost four hours, also featured some owners of cooperative apartments speaking out against the proposed rules, in favor of less rigid implementation. 

"Considering the serious financial impediments to buildings is necessary to achieve Local Law 97's goals," said Rebecca Poole, the director of membership and communication for the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, who called for a more robust effort from the City and state to help co-op owners afford the new climate-friendly infrastructure. 

Originally, the Department of Buildings had outlined a timeline where penalties would begin in 2025 for pollution done during 2024. But last month, the Department of Buildings released a draft proposal of rules that included a two-year delay on fines for buildings that are making a "good faith" effort to comply with emissions reductions, something that climate activists categorize as far too lenient. The new rules also failed to set a limit on credits that building owners can buy to get out of decarbonizing their buildings and avoid paying fines for continuing to use fossil fuels for their heating and hot water. Donors to Mayor Eric Adams from the real estate sector had been lobbying City Hall to weaken the climate laws ahead of implementation, something that the new rules appear to have accomplished. 

This delay, said Public Advocate Jumaane Wiliams during public testimony, "allows building owners who have not taken action over the past five years to continue that inaction." Williams added, "Allowing two more years of harmful emissions will do more permanent harm to our climate." 

The DOB has countered that the "good faith" clause in the rules was always envisioned as part of the original legislation, and that the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that building owners can buy to get out of their climate responsibilities won't even be available until 2026—and by then, the DOB might have already revised rules further regarding their use. Right now, 11 percent of New York's buildings aren't on track to meet the 2024-2029 compliance requirements in LL97, and are set to receive fines beginning in 2025. 

Queens Councilmember James Gennaro, the chair of the Council’s Environmental Committee, disagreed with the characterization that the two-year delay was a carveout for building owners, and that, instead, it was meant to get building owners to finally commit to change instead of paying fines. 

"I see it as a way to lock in property owners that they do get ultimately in compliance, we're looking at people's carbon footprint, we're not looking for money," Gennaro said.

But money was at the forefront of many cooperative apartment owners' minds who spoke at the hearing—specifically who would pay for the costly retrofits that buildings must now undertake to be in compliance (single-family homes, public housing, and rent-stabilized buildings are mostly exempt from this round of compliance). 

For months, housing co-ops in the outer boroughs have been a bastion of resistance to the rules, as they come to terms with massive capital expenditures that will involve millions in upgrades—from new windows, replacement of boilers, and, in some cases, wholesale replacements of 100-year-old electrical systems. 

"Local Law 97 is the greatest unfunded mandate and penalty ever imposed by the City Council on their own constituents," said Bob Friedrich, President of Glen Oaks Village Owners Co-op and a vocal opponent of the law. "We're simply trying to find a reasonable way to comply with the law without bankrupting our co-ops and families that can least afford it." 

During the hearing, Friedrich alleged a conspiracy between environmental advocates, electricians, and energy consultants, meant to take cooperatives for every cent they have. 

But it doesn't take a coordinated conspiracy to see what's really happening here—big real estate can afford to run from change for as long as they'd like to, while smaller buildings, like condos and cooperatives, must soon start doing the hard work of gutting old buildings. The City has pointed residents towards its Accelerator Program, which pairs building owners up with free consultations on how to access loans and grants meant to reduce the financial burdens on homeowners—and pointing out the long-term savings that accompany decarbonization. 

While LL97 was always going to be a heavy lift for some building owners, critics of the new rules say that haphazard and half-hearted implementation muddies the water at a crucial moment for the City's environmental goals, while the state is facing impacts from climate change on its most vulnerable communities.  

"If fully implemented and enforced, Local Law 97 will lower utility bills, cut pollution, and create tens of thousands of jobs," said Denise Patel, a co-op owner and member of the advocacy group New York Communities for Change. "It is imperative that Mayor Adams stands up for New Yorkers who need it most. Instead, through these rules, he's chosen to reward the building owners who have not taken action to reduce their pollution when the law takes effect next year. They shouldn't be rewarded." 

The rules are set to be finalized in the coming weeks, with the first fines being levied in 2025—that is, unless a building owner has been given an extra two years to comply. 

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