Pols push to punish heatless landlords

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Elected officials are trying to find a tougher way to punish bad landlords who don’t provide heat to their tenants.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, State Senator Liz Krueger from Manhattan and members of the New York City Council are bringing awareness to the fact that many landlords are neglecting to provide tenants with basic services like heat and hot water.
They vowed to take necessary steps to ensure negligent landlords are compelled by harsher penalties and increased enforcement.
“Providing tenants with heat and hot water is the law, plain and simple,” de Blasio said. “But some landlords decide it’s cheaper and easier to not provide heat and just pay a nominal fine. We need to change that equation by giving fines for heating violations real teeth.”
According to new data obtained by the Office of the Public Advocate, tenants citywide filed 114,004 complaints from July 2009 to June 2010 because they lacked heat or hot water. Queens alone had 17,472 heat and hot water complaints, far less than 39,196 complaints in Brooklyn and 33,709 in the Bronx.
From October 1 to December 14, 2010, 3-1-1 received a total of 82,757 complaints citywide about lack of heat or hot water in their apartments, according to a spokesperson from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Queens tenants made 11,673 complaints compared to 28,539 in Brooklyn and 24,391 in the Bronx.
“The lack of heat overall is getting worse because the economic condition is worse,” said Julio Ortiz-Luquis, director of Housing Services, Woodside on the Move, Inc., a grassroots community organization that advocates for tenants.
By law, landlords are obligated to provide hot water year-round, and to provide heat on cold days between October 1 and May 1. Between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 68 degrees. If the temperature outside is below 40 degrees from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the inside temperature should be at least 55 degrees.
To compel landlords to repair broken heating systems, de Blasio introduced the H.E.A.T. Act (Intro. 951) in the City Council. Landlords are currently assessed a maximum fine of $500 per unit, per day for the first heat or hot water violation, and up to $1,000 per unit, per day for subsequent violations. The current law returns all landlords to the lower fine of $500 for violations each January 1. Under the bill, landlords would be required to go a full two years without violations before their fines would return to the $500 level. The measure is expected to generate additional revenue for the City.
“It is a shame that we must force human beings to provide the basic humane service of heat and hot water,” said Councilmember James Sanders, who represents Rosedale, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and Far Rockaway. “The H.E.A.T. Act is step one in our response to these inhumane landlords.”
At the state level, the bill S3857 sponsored by Krueger would establish new administrative tribunals to rapidly correct housing code violations like failing heat systems. It would provide tenants with a faster way to get urgent repairs, rather than wait for their complaint to be heard in housing court. And prevent landlords from settling their fines in court for a small fraction of the initial payment.
“We are not saying all landlords are bad,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City, Astoria, and Maspeth. “We just want to make sure there is no incentive not to provide heat and hot water.”
Any tenants who are unable to immediately resolve their heat and hot water complaints by calling 3-1-1 are urged to call the Public Advocate hotline at 212-669-7250.