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Know Your Rights
Source: The Epoch Times
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Building Violations Law May be Expanded to Include Asthma Triggers

NEW YORK—Legislation for the expansion of the Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP) under the NYC Safe Housing Act was introduced at City Hall on Tuesday. The current law highlights 200 of the city’s worst multiple dwelling buildings with severe violations, and forces owners to bring them up to code.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn and NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Rafael Cestero announced proposed changes to the law to include asthma triggers, such as mold and vermin infestations, and to encompass more than twice as many units.

The program, which has allowed HPD to ensure that some of the worst buildings with violations across the five boroughs undergo repair, was signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in June 2007. AEP puts landlords on notice to make comprehensive repairs to units in violation. If the landlords do not comply, HPD has the power to go in and make the repairs, billing the owner for the cost.

Cestero says with changes to the legislation, they would be able to bring larger buildings with more units under inspection. The current law affects approximately 1,000 units. With the expansion in place, nearly 3,500 units would be affected.

With asthma triggers added to the list of violations, Quinn believes that the fruits of this expansion will be seen beyond building repairs, and will lead to reduced asthma emergency room visits in area hospitals. “By holding landlords more firmly accountable, we can not only improve housing stock but improve people’s homes and prevent other children and newborns from becoming sick,” said Quinn. The legislation will have its first hearing on Dec. 14 and could be passed in late December or early January. Quinn says she doesn’t foresee any challenges in getting the legislation passed.

"With this legislation we acknowledge that mold and rodent infestation housing violations, that make a major contribution to the asthma epidemic in New York City, are just as serious as other major code infractions,” said Council Member Rosie Mendez, chairwoman of the Public Housing Committee and cosponsor of the bill.

A Brooklyn resident, and member of Make the Road New York shared her neighbor’s story. Luisa Mejia has been living in the same apartment for 20 years and in that time has developed severe asthma that has brought her to the emergency room many times. She describes her apartment as being covered by mold, cockroaches, and mice. Her daughter, son, and grandson who also live in the apartment, have also developed asthma.

Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, focused on managing affordable housing and community facilities based in South Brooklyn, says that many low-income Latinos and African-Americans suffer disproportionally from asthma, with the majority being children.

According to the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, those affected by asthma suffer chronic lung inflammation and experience airway tightening leading them to experience coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. The department cites asthma as the leading cause of hospitalization of children and missed school days.

The New York City Asthma Partnership (NYCAP) supports the claim that mold and vermin infestations trigger asthma. NYCAP has a program called Community Integrated Pest Management (IPM) designed to eliminate vermin infestations, which they cite as asthma triggers in low-income apartments.

Uz notes that when representing different tenants in court, they present prescriptions written by doctors that cite infestations as triggers to child asthma. "Dear Landlord: Child suffers from allergic asthma, severely allergic to roaches and rodents. Please remove," wrote one doctor.

Many of the buildings the AEP has indicated have been predominantly concentrated in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Quinn underlined the importance of New Yorkers using 311 to report violations and substandard housing. “If you don’t call, we can’t look at those violations, and we can’t get you into the safe housing act,” she said.

In identifying these 200 buildings each year, HPD looks at buildings who had numerous class ‘B’ hazardous and class ‘C’ immediately hazardous violations. Participation in the program is not optional, and the owner of the building in question has to correct all of the violations related to providing heat and hot water ,as well as at least 80 percent of the class B and C violations within four months. Failure to do so results in HPD taking on the repair jobs and issuing fees, all of which are billed to the owner. If the owner claims they do not have sufficient funds for the HPD repairs, a lien is placed against the property.

In the event that the violations are not corrected within four months of the notice, owners are subject to pay fines of approximately $500 per unit every six months.