The Real Estate Board of New York to The Committee on Housing and Buildings of the New York City Council Regarding Tools for Enforcing the Housing Maintenance Code

Daniel Avery

Director of Policy

December 5, 2022

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Thank you for the opportunity to testify on a slate of bills concerning the enforcement of the housing maintenance code.

BILL: Intro 163-2022

SUBJECT:This bill would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to submit photographic documentation when issuing a notice of violation where the underlying condition is visual and capable of being captured by photograph. The Department would also be required to publish a list of violations subject to this requirement on its website.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Holden, Yeger, Ariola, Borelli and Carr

REBNY supports Intro 163 and its pragmatic approach to documenting and curing violations. Today’s technology makes it easily possible for inspectors to take photographs to help document potential violations. Doing so not only will create greater accountability but will also establish greater clarity and standardization regarding infractions that often lead to violations. For these reasons, REBNY encourages the Council to move this legislation forward and replicate this requirement for other agencies across City government.

BILL: Intro 337-2022

SUBJECT:This bill would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to compile and distribute to tenants or occupants of a multiple dwelling a list of any unresolved violations of the Housing Maintenance Code for such dwelling. HPD would distribute these lists annually by mail.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Hudson, Louis, Hanif, Ayala, Restler and Chair Sanchez.

REBNY supports creating an environment in which tenants understand their rights to quality housing and the outlets available to report unsafe living conditions. In addition, ensuring that information on a building’s violations history, including open violations, is readily available is an important tool for both current and perspective tenants of any building. However, as this information is already readily available online through HPD’s website and other New York City public data, REBNY questions the utility of this legislation. Indeed, requiring the agency to annually compile a list of violations – regardless of if the infraction is immediately hazardous or not - would cost millions of dollars while increasing the agency’s administrative burden at a time in which there are already staffing shortages. As a result, it behooves the Council to consider alternative proposals that would not create such challenges. For example, the City could better inform residents of its open data portal where this information is easily available.

BILL: Intro 434-2022

SUBJECT:This bill would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to identify 150 class A multiple dwellings per borough based on factors including number of temperature violations and heat-related complaints every two years. Such identified buildings would then be required to install internet-capable temperature reporting devices for up to four years. HPD would be required to conduct dedicated heat inspections of these buildings at least once every two weeks, and tenants would be able to opt in to providing automatic heat data transmission to HPD.

SPONSORS: Chair Sanchez and Councilmembers Stevens, Farias, De La Rosa, Hudson, Louis, Nurse, Krishnan, Restler and Brewer.

REBNY and its members take the statutory responsibility in ensuring that apartments meet minimum temperature requirements – particularly in winter months – very seriously and agrees with the Council’s priority of ensuring that property owners and managers maintain these obligations. However, while it is important to uphold accountability, particularly where it pertains to ensuring habitability and safe building temperatures, the proposed legislation will create significant challenges for HPD and may not ultimately be effective. For one, requiring that 150 buildings in each borough be selected every two years would be overly burdensome for HPD to manage and significantly difficult, if not impossible to do in some boroughs, such as Staten Island. Secondly, there is no standardized quality control for the heat measuring equipment, which would need to be established to best ensure success. Thirdly, as has often been the case for installation and inspection of equipment, gaining access to individual apartments, particularly during weekday work hours, can be challenging. Finally, the Council should be cognizant about the challenges HPD could face by increasing the need for additional inspections at a time in which the agency is already struggling to meet existing inspection requirements.

With this said, REBNY understands the importance of these requirements, particularly considering the tragic fires that have occurred across the City in recent years due to improper space heater use and other avoidable situations. As a result, we look forward to working with the Council and other stakeholders to continue to identify appropriate solutions that balance comfort, quality housing, safety, and the environment.

BILL: Intro 484-2022

SUBJECT:The bill would require that the Department of Buildings submit photographic documentation when issuing a notice of violation for violations where the underlying condition is visual and capable of being captured by photograph. The Department would be tasked with promulgating and publishing rules regarding which violations will be subject to the photograph requirement.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Marte, Brannan, Nurse, Abreu and Chair Sanchez.

As with Intro 163, REBNY supports Intro 484. Photographic evidence of violations at DOB is sensible and REBNY hopes similar requirements will be implemented at other agencies.

BILL: Intro 583-2022

SUBJECT:This bill would increase the penalties for many violations issued by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). In addition, HPD would be required to annually create a certification of correction watch list. Any owner on the certification of correction watch list would be prohibited from certifying correction of any violation in a multiple dwelling unless HPD has verified by inspection that the violation has been corrected.

SPONSORS: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams as well as Councilmembers Caban, Louis, Hanif, Brewer, Joseph, Nurse, Gutierrez, and Chair Sanchez.

In recent years REBNY has supported efforts to improve standards for quality housing and establish tools to help owners meet these standards, while also ensuring that government agencies have the appropriate tools and resources for proper and fair enforcement. The establishment of a certification of corrections watch list, if done appropriately, could be an important tool to ensuring that unscrupulous actors who have been known to fail to correct immediately hazardous violations are kept under a more watchful eye.

However, the proposal would benefit from greater clarity to address several key issues:

The legislation appears to apply to an owner’s entire portfolio of buildings rather than one specific building. This is difficult, however, because in general enforcement is done on a building-by-building basis as opposed to an owner’s entire portfolio as building ownership is often complex and involves numerous parties.

The legislation includes very broad criteria for buildings to be included on the certification of correction watch list. This would leave significant discretion in the hands of HPD to potentially include buildings that do not have a compelling history of these kinds of violations in the watch list. More careful consideration should be given to the buildings that would be included in such a watchlist.

The legislation should specify that buildings that could potentially be on the watchlist, but that were recently purchased by an owner who is actively correcting relevant problems with the building, would not be added to the watchlist.

The inability to self-certify corrections to violations is a severe sanction on building owners and will strain the resources of HPD. The Council should explore whether other tools, for example higher monetary penalties or more frequent inspections, could better protect residents rather than denying the ability to self-certify in all cases.

REBNY encourages the City Council to work with HPD to best understand what resources and processes would be needed to best accommodate the enforcement necessary to address buildings with a record of serious repetitive violations for failure to correct.

Thank you for the consideration of these points.

Topics Covered

  • Housing
  • Safety