The phrase "Certificate of No Harassment" sounds more suited to an interpersonal conflict, but it is, in fact, a term used in New York City real estate and relates to development of older properties.
The CONH is actually the end result of a Department of Housing Preservation and Development program, designed to protect tenants of buildings in certain areas of the city. Those buildings include single-room-occupancy multiple dwellings, or SROs (you can learn more about those here), or a structure in one of the following districts: the Special Clinton District, the Special Hudson Yards District, the Special Garment Center District, the Greenpoint-Williamsburg anti-harassment area, and the Special West Chelsea District. In September of 2018, Local Law 1 established a CONH Pilot Program, adding dozens of buildings throughout the city to the list. (You can see that here.)
A CONH is the document that an owner of one of these buildings must obtain before they can be granted a permit by the Department of Buildings to do major alterations. Those include full and partial demolition, change of use or occupancy, adding or removing a kitchen or bathroom, changing the number of dwellings or the layout of one.
Say, for example, you own a big, older building in an area that's gaining popularity and you'd like to give it a makeover to capitalize on that. But you've got some legal tenants living there. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development wants to make sure you don't get any funny ideas and try to make those tenants leave by making their life more difficult—i.e., "harassing" them. (This does not necessarily mean literally harassing people—although it could. Trying to evict someone, or not providing essential services like heat are other examples.)
"The Department of Housing Preservation and Development takes it very seriously. They do pursue it and devote resources to it," says Ron Languedoc, an attorney at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph (a Brick Underground sponsor).
How do you get a Certificate of No Harassment?
If a building is categorized as requiring a CONH prior to any major alterations, owners must apply for one. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development will contact building residents and make public notices in an effort to determine if any harassment of tenants has occurred in the last three to five years.
Next, the city's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings holds a hearing to determine if any harassment has taken place. If not, a CONH is granted, and work can begin. If so, a CONH is denied, and the owner is restricted from doing any major alteration of the building for three years. (In some cases, it can be five years.)
What if I think I'm being harassed?
If you live in one of these buildings (HPD can help you determine if you are) and suspect you are being "harassed" with the end goal being the development of your building, Languedoc says one option is to contact HPD with your complaint.
He also suggests reaching out to your tenant association, if you have one, or contacting non-profits that works on tenants rights issues such as Brooklyn Legal Services or the Metropolitan Council on Housing. You can, of course, also hire an attorney on your own.