HPD: Heat Season Has Already Started
New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Mathew Wambua today reminded residential building owners of their legal obligation to provide tenants with hot water year-round and heat when the outdoor temperature warrants it.
The 2011/2012 “heat season” began October 1 and continues through May 31, 2012. During heat season, residential owners with tenants are required by law to maintain an indoor temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. when the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees. Between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., building owners must maintain an indoor temperature of 55 degrees when the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees. Hot water is required to be maintained at 120 degrees.
“Property owners have a legal obligation to provide basic services to their tenants – and the most basic of those services include heat and hot water. There is no excuse for putting tenants’ health and safety at risk as a result of failing to provide heat and hot water during winter’s coldest months. With ownership comes responsibility, and the City of New York expects that duty to be followed to the letter of the law,” said Wambua. “We want to be sure New Yorkers know their rights, and if their landlords aren’t taking action to provide heat, they should call 311, immediately. All heat complaints are investigated. During the winter this is our prime imperative.
“The majority of landlords want to do the right thing for their tenants, and they can also reach out to HPD if they need help complying with heat season regulations. We are always ready to work with owners and managing agents to help them fulfill their responsibilities. But landlords should be aware that in those cases where they don’t take action and HPD is forced to step in and make the repairs, including providing fuel for boilers, the cost incurred becomes a lien against the property. Under a new law, passed by the City Council earlier this year, those liens can be sold by the City at auction. Why risk losing your property for failing to provide legally required basic services?”
In the event of a heat deficiency, a tenant should first attempt to notify the building owner, managing agent or superintendent. If heat is not restored, the tenant should call 311, 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Hearing-impaired tenants can register complaints via a Touchtone Device for the Deaf TDD at 212-504-4115.
Once the complaint is recorded, HPD staff attempts to contact the building’s owner or managing agent to get heat or hot water service restored. Before an HPD code inspector is dispatched to the building, HPD will call the tenant back to determine whether service has been restored. If service has not been restored, an HPD inspector is sent to the building to verify the complaint and, if warranted, issue a violation. HPD fields a team of inspectors working in shifts, situated in offices throughout all five boroughs to provide coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For situations that warrant the deployment of additional crews, such as prolonged periods of below freezing temperatures, the agency will deploy additional inspectors, as well as maintenance staff to any given shift, sometimes doubling the normal number to help respond to complaints and emergencies.
In cases where private owners fail to restore heat and hot water, or when HPD is unable to reach owners, HPD’s Emergency Repair Program (ERP) may use private contractors to make the necessary repairs to restore essential services. The cost of the emergency repairs is billed to the private owner and becomes a tax lien on the property if not paid. The City’s Emergency Repair Program is by far the most extensive in the nation.
HPD also may initiate legal action against properties issued heat violations. In January 2004, Mayor
Bloomberg signed legislation that increased the civil penalty range for heat and hot water violations from $250 to a maximum of $500 per day for first violations. The bill established a new penalty structure for subsequent violations at the same location, within the same calendar year, with penalties ranging from $500 to $1000 per day. This was the first increase in penalties in more than 20 years. Owners who incur multiple heat violations are subject to litigation seeking maximum litigation penalties and to continued scrutiny on heat and other code deficiencies. In 2011, a further amendment was enacted so that the City can enforce against owners who incur heat or hot water violations in succeeding years. Thus, if a building has a heat violation in the upcoming heat season and, in the succeeding heat season another heat violation is placed, the later heat violation will be subject to the enhanced penalties of $500 to $1000 per day. Owners may also be required to attend training on proper heating plant operations and how to responsibly reduce heating expenses while maintaining adequate heat services.