Tenants in 1,000+ NYC buildings experienced chronic heat problems between 2017 and 2021

Posted On Tue, January 10, 2023 By

Posted On Tue, January 10, 2023 By In Policy

Image courtesy of 6sqft

Between 2017 and 2021, New Yorkers called 311 nearly one million times to report a lack of heat in their homes. During that same time, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development issued only 21,610 heat violations to landlords, according to a new report from NYC Comptroller Brad Lander’s office. The report found interventions by the city, including violations and emergency repairs, are effective in addressing heat complaints, but “too often fails to apply them.”

The report was released on the one-year anniversary of the deadly Twin Parks fire in the Bronx, which claimed the lives of 17 New Yorkers, left many others injured, and was a prime example of the devastating effects inadequate heat can have on residents of apartment buildings. The fire is said to have been caused by a faulty space heater, which a family used because of a lack of adequate heat provided by the building.

Between 2017 to 2021, more than 100 fires at NYC residential buildings were caused by faulty space heaters.

According to Lander’s report, from 2017 to 2021, New Yorkers living in 70,766 privately-owned residential buildings filed a total of 814,542 heat complaints. Over these five years, the HPD issued only 21,610 violations to landlords who failed to meet the minimum-required temperatures in their properties.

There are 1,077 buildings in New York City in which tenants complained more than five times each heat season from 2017 to 2021. Despite making up just 1.5 percent of all city buildings that made complaints, these buildings made up almost a third of heat complaints over those five years.

When the HPD follows through and applies remedies to heating issues, the results are positive. According to the report, violations issued to buildings resulted in a 47 percent average drop in the number of heat complaints the following season.

Lander said the five community districts with the most heat-related violations issued by the HPD averaged 89 percent of people of color.

The northwest Bronx had the highest number of buildings with chronic heat complaints. Three out of the four community districts with the highest amount of complaints are areas with large Black and Latino populations. Bronx Community Board 7 had 103 buildings with complaints, the highest amount, followed by Bronx Community Board 4 with 86 buildings.

“The City must turn up the heat on landlords who leave their tenants in the cold. The good news here is that our enforcement tools work: when HPD issues violations, sues landlords, does emergency repairs, or installs heat sensors – problems get fixed,” Lander said.

“But far too often, none of those actions take place even in buildings that are cold year, after-year, after-year. More strategic, data-informed enforcement and escalating penalties against landlords who repeatedly fail to provide heat are necessary to ensure safe and warm apartments for all New York City tenants.

Lander issued a set of recommendations in the report, including:

  • The use of data and technology to identify buildings in dire need of heating solutions,
  • Allowing tenants in buildings with chronic heat problems to schedule inspections so heating issues can be addressed faster
  • Bringing in the HPD and Department of Buildings to conduct joint site inspections
  • Expanding multilingual outreach to tenants of all ethnicities and backgrounds
  • Letting tenants exercise their rights by passing good cause eviction protections

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