They want to bring the heat.
Advocates joined with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and Councilmembers Mark Levine, Ritchie Torres and Robert E. Cornegy Jr. to call for remote temperature monitors to be installed in apartment buildings to independently monitor heat requirements.
This past winter, over 200,000 heat-related complaints were made to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) from tenants in private apartment buildings.
Torres is the prime sponsor of a new bill in which heat sensing technology would be used to enforce requirements mandated in the city housing code.
“Heat and hot water are not a luxury [but] one of the bare necessities of life,” said Torres. “In private housing, not only do you have the epidemic of heat and power outages, but you have the added element of harassment.”
The bill would require HPD to identify the 150 Class A multiple dwelling buildings with the highest ratios of temperature violations to unit beginning in January 2020. Those building owners would be required to install and maintain the temperature reporting devices in each living room for no less than four years – at no cost to the tenant. These devices will display heating details over the Internet for both the tenant and owner to view.
The current system requires a tenant to make a complaint by calling 311, which is forwarded to HPD. The agency provides landlords with a notice of future inspection and then visits to conduct the inspection.
“We know this dance and this dance has become a broken record each year,” said Adams. “[HPD] gives [landlords] a period of time. He comes out and turns on the heat, and then after the inspectors leave, he departs. And when he departs, the heat departs as well.”
The press conference was held in front of 509 West 134th Street, which was cited as the building with the highest number of heating related violations in the city.
“We’re here to talk about the challenge of heat for low-income tenants,” said Levine. “We are on a street that is ground zero for the abuse of landlords who use denial of heat and hot water as a weapon for pushing out low-income tenants.”
“Technology doesn’t lie,” remarked Adams.
The sensor, a small black box that attaches to a power outlet three to five feet off the ground, would record the temperature of the apartment every hour and send the data to HPD.
The heat sensors, which will cost about $120 each, are created and provided by Heat Seek, one of the winners of the 2014 EDC BigApps Competition, an annual initiative focused on improving communities’ quality of life through innovative technology.
“When you think about the promise and the ideal of smart cities, often we have an idea that we want to be able to bring equity and build technology for tenants across the city regardless of their income,” said Noelle Francois, Executive Director of Heat Seek. “We are trying to be an example of the smart city technology that I think we all want to see, which is making New York City apartments safe, healthy and dignified for all.”
María Vélez is President of the block’s tenant association. She said she was hopeful the bill would become law.
“A lot of seniors and children live here,” she explained, adding that the regulated information would also offset the issues of excessive heat in warmer months.
“One of the problems is too much heat,” she said. “Two months into the spring and summer and the heat is still on.”
The continuous documentation will be made accessible to tenants and building owners alike with an app linked to the device and can be used in any legal disputes.
Advocates present also argued that such controls could serve to help regulate and limit needless emissions.
Isabelle Silverman, an Environmental Consultant with the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy organization, observed, “When we measure, we can manage.”