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Rivington House Debacle Sparks City Council to Pass New Deed Oversight Law

By Allegra Hobbs | December 7, 2016 1:20pm
 Rivington House shuttered in February 2015 after decades of providing long-term care for HIV/AIDS patients.
Rivington House shuttered in February 2015 after decades of providing long-term care for HIV/AIDS patients.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

MANHATTAN — A bill that would increase transparency and ensure community involvement before the city is allowed to modify deed restrictions has been unanimously voted in by the City Council.

The legislation — which now goes before Mayor Bill de Blasio to sign — calls for a searchable database of properties with deed restrictions and requires public notification along with an extensive review process when the city considers lifting a deed restriction. 

Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduced the bill in May after the city's Department of Citywide Administrative Services agreed to  lift a deed restriction that preserved Rivington House, a Lower East Side care facility for HIV/AIDS patients, as a nursing home.

Three months after the deed restriction was lifted, then-operator Allure Group sold the property to developer Slate Property Group to convert the property into luxury condos.

The City Council in September held a hearing in an attempt to uncover what went wrong in the city's process. Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris admitted he had never explicitly communicated his wishes for the property to remain a nursing home to DCAS officials before they lifted two deed restrictions — one that would have maintained Rivington House's nonprofit status and another that stated it must be operated as a health care facility.

Shorris had said the property slipped through the cracks because there was no clear protocol for dealing with deed restrictions, and no room in the existing process for assessing community benefit.

Elected officials, in introducing the legislation, had noted the lack of transparency around the modification of deed restricted properties was also to blame.

The new legislation will require the mayor's office to notify the relevant borough president, council member and community board every time a property owner proposes the modification or removal of a deed restriction.

The mayor's office must notify the parties at least 60 days prior to the modification, under the law.

The mayor would also have to hold a public hearing within 20 to 30 days of the removal or modification. While public hearing were previously held leading up to deed restriction modifications, notice of the hearings only needed to be published in the city record — under the new legislation, notice of the hearing would be sent to the borough president, council member and community board.

In addition, the mayor's office now has to create an easily searchable database for deed-restricted properties, which has to be updated at least weekly on the city's website.

The database has to include key information such as the name of the owner of the property, a description of all restrictions on the property and a history of those restrictions.

City Council officials hailed the passage of the bill and called on de Blasio to sign it.

"The people of the Lower East Side, who were cheated out of a prized community asset when Allure Group flipped Rivington House for luxury condos, demanded that their elected officials act to ensure that this never happens again to another community,” said Councilwoman Margaret Chin in a statement.

“With the passage of this legislation, we have answered their call, as well as that of millions of other New Yorkers worried about the future of their neighborhoods," added Chin, who along with community members continues to demand the city do everything in its power to return the Rivington House property to the community. 

Tuesday's legislation joins a bevy of changes to the process surrounding deed restrictions from the mayor's office, including initiating a stricter vetting process for proposed modifications and requiring the city to use "legally binding language" to prevent such properties from being used for an alternative purpose.

Following the City Council's approval, the bill has been sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio and is awaiting his signature.

The mayor's office did not immediately respond to an inquiry regarding whether he planned to sign it into law. 

De Blasio had previously announced that he would be signing off on any deed restriction modifications going forward.