Testimony Before the New York City Council Housing and Buildings Committee Regarding Code Enforcement

Effective code enforcement is fundamental to ensuring safe, stable and affordable housing for all New Yorkers. Unfortunately, the City’s code enforcement laws and processes often fall short. Far too many tenants live in unsafe conditions, with landlords who neglect their buildings, refuse to make repairs, deny essential services including heat and hot water, and allow health issues like mold and pests to run rampant.

Thank you to Committee Chair Sanchez and members of the Housing and Buildings Committee for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Emily Goldstein, and I am the Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD).


About the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD)

ANHD is one of the City’s leading policy, advocacy, technical assistance, and capacity-building organizations. We maintain a membership of 80+ neighborhood-based and city-wide nonprofit organizations that have affordable housing and/or equitable economic development as a central component of their mission. We bridge the power and impact of our member groups to build community power and ensure the right to affordable housing and thriving, equitable neighborhoods for all New Yorkers. We value justice, equity and opportunity, and we believe in the importance of movement building that centers marginalized communities in our work. We believe housing justice is economic justice is racial justice.


About the Right to a Roof Coalition

ANHD is also a co-founder of the Right to a Roof coalition, which unites tenants, homeowners, homeless folks, and NYCHA residents who share the conviction that every New Yorker deserves a permanent, affordable, and safe roof over our heads. Our coalition consists of: advocates that together represent tens of thousands of primarily low-income New Yorkers living across the five boroughs in public and private housing; mission-driven, non-profit affordable housing developers who have together built, preserved, and managed thousands of units of affordable housing; and service providers who help New Yorkers access critical resources. We work every day to secure racial and economic justice for all New Yorkers. We and our members have organized communities facing displacement pressure in the face of City-driven neighborhood plans, built power with people experiencing homelessness and in public housing communities, and provided counseling to help thousands of New Yorkers stay in their homes.


Code Enforcement Background

Effective code enforcement is fundamental to ensuring safe, stable and affordable housing for all New Yorkers. Unfortunately, the City’s code enforcement laws and processes often fall short. Far too many tenants live in unsafe conditions, with landlords who neglect their buildings, refuse to make repairs, deny essential services including heat and hot water, and allow health issues like mold and pests to run rampant.


According to HPD’s Housing and Vacancy Survey, of all occupied units[1]:

  • In 2021 nearly 1 in 4 occupied units reported the presence of rodents in their building
  • 18% reported leaks
  • 17% reported cracks or holes in the ceiling or floors
  • 16% reported additional heating needed during the prior winter
  • 16% reported an elevator breakdown
  • 10% reported a heating breakdown during the prior winter
  • 9% reported mold in their unit the prior year
  • 6% reported no functioning toilet for at least 5 hours


And experiences of failed code enforcement do not fall evenly across communities and populations. Black non-Hispanic and Hispanic renters live with maintenance deficiencies at drastically higher rates than White and other renters[2].

  • 21% of Black and 20% of Hispanic tenants live in units with 3+ maintenance deficiencies compared to 7% of White tenants.
  • On the flip side, 66% of White tenants have no maintenance deficiencies compared to 45% of Black and 47% of Hispanic tenants.
  • The number of Black tenants of any income level with 3+ maintenance deficiencies was comparable or slightly higher than the number of tenants of any race making less than $25,000 per year with 3+ maintenance deficiencies.


Our city must do better. That’s why the Right to a Roof platform includes a demand to increase proactive enforcement and enact stronger penalties to ensure housing quality and safety.


Int. 583

We strongly support improvements to the civil penalties structure tied to code enforcement violations. Currently, many landlords see penalties for code violations as an insignificant cost of doing business - in part because the penalties are so low, and in part because even those that exist are routinely forgiven rather than collected by HPD and other city agencies. We firmly support increasing the dollar value of penalties for code violations, which this bill does.


However, the impact of increasing civil penalty amounts will be muted if they are never enforced and collected. Therefore, we recommend adding language to this legislation to limit the situations in which the city forgives civil penalties accrued due to code violations. Tenants, organizers, and lawyers are constantly frustrated by the tendency of HPD lawyers to forgive civil penalties for code violations as a matter of routine. It makes the already difficult process of bringing housing court cases feel futile for many tenants, and undermines the purpose of the penalties, which is to act as a deterrent to landlords violating the law.


Instead, penalties should only be forgiven in limited situations - for example, in the event of a sale to a preservation purchaser, or as part of a broader preservation plan with additional regulatory requirements. Landlords who repeatedly incur penalties due to code violations, and particularly due to failing to correct violations in a timely manner, should not have those penalties wiped away so that they can simply continue to violate the law with impunity and put their tenants at risk. ANHD and the Right to a Roof coalition would like to work with the bill sponsors and with HPD to develop appropriate language addressing this issue.


We also support creating a certification of correction watch list as described in the legislation. ANHD has found that watch lists compiled by government agencies can be powerful deterring factors for bad behavior.


In order for the list to fully serve the intended purpose of public disclosure, language around inclusion on the NYC Open Data portal should be included in the legislation. We have found that despite open data requirements, agencies do not always publish lists in an open data format that facilitates use by the public nor include all the information needed to make the watch lists transparent. We encourage the Council to add to Int. 583:

  • No later than January 15 of each year, the department shall post on its website and on the New York City open data portal the certification of correction watch list, with the criteria for inclusion on the list and the date of qualification.
  • The list should include data that qualified the landlord for inclusion on the list (i.e. the number and severity of violations occurring in any multiple dwelling owned by such person and any other factors used by HPD to determine inclusion on the watch list)
  • HPD should make public on its website and in metadata on the Open Data portal the schedule and sources it uses to classify persons eligible for the watch list.


Finally, we also encourage the City to use all tools at its disposal to prevent landlords from hiding behind LLCs in order to avoid having the consequences of placement on the watch list apply across their portfolios.  We believe additional measures could be taken to make the watch list as effective as possible, such as:

  • Enforcing owner registration requirements so that individuals and their contact information is on file
  • Requiring individuals to declare what other buildings they are agents for upon registration
  • Requiring individuals to declare what LLCs they own


Improving the structure and impact of civil penalties for code enforcement is a priority for both ANHD and the Right to a Roof coalition, and we hope to work with you to strengthen and pass this important bill quickly.


Int. 434

According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s 2020 report, HPD received hundreds of thousands of heat and hot water complaints between 2017 and 2019.[3] However, only 7% of those complaints resulted in a violation. We know 93% of tenants are not arbitrarily complaining that they have no heat or hot water. Rather, this statistic shows the inspection and enforcement system is not working, and there is a dire need for improvements to City enforcement of widespread lack of heat and hot water.


Even with prompt responses to complaints, point-in-time follow up visits are an inherently flawed way to verify lack of proper heat. If your toilet is broken, it stays broken, but if the landlord turns heat on before an inspector arrives, HPD cannot verify it was ever off. That is why real-time sensor data is a valuable tool to better enforce heating requirements, and why we support an expanded and effective heat sensors program.


ANHD supports our partners at Heat Seek, who are experts at working alongside affected tenants to use real-time temperature monitoring to collect accurate data on lack of heat and on what solutions are needed to fix the problem. We encourage the Council to work closely with them and impacted tenants to best design this program and future expansions to achieve the intended impact.


We want to highlight some of Heat Seek’s recommendations:

  • HPD must commit to using tenant’s automatically transmitted data to inform when they send inspectors to the building. When data indicates a failure to provide sufficient heat, HPD should send an inspector that day or the following day at the latest.
  • HPD should provide more information to tenants about how to participate in the heat sensors program and how their data will be used.
  • HPD needs sufficient resources to properly implement the program.



Beyond the specific comments listed above, ANHD very much appreciates the committee’s attention to issues of code enforcement, and the various bill sponsors’ proposals to improve the transparency, accessibility, and effectiveness of the code enforcement process for the thousands of tenants who fight daily to have their homes brought into compliance with the law and into a state of healthy and safe habitability.


If you have any questions or for more information on this testimony, please contact Emily Goldstein at emily.g@anhd.org.




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