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Know Your Rights
Source: Real Estate Weekly
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

City Council Moves to Expand Safety Housing Law

The City Council is seeking to expand the city’s Safe Housing Law to include “asthma triggers,” including mold and vermin infestations, a move that would shift regulation to larger apartment buildings.

As part of the existing Safe Housing Law, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) identifies 200 buildings throughout the city each year that have the most open Class B and Class C hazardous violations, a process called the Alternative Enforcement Program.

Class B violations are defined as safety hazards that include lack of adequate lighting or no posted Certificate of Occupancy, and are required to be corrected within 30 days. Class C violations are more severe and include inadequate fire exits, use of lead-based paint and no heat, hot water, electricity or gas. They must be resolved within 24 hours.

Landlords must either repair the violations themselves, or pay for work by HPD-hired contractors. Rafael Cestero, HPD commissioner, said around two-thirds of landlords pay for repairs, while the other third are eventually billed by HPD.

The vast majority of the so-called “worst buildings” have been in the Bronx and Brooklyn. In November 2009, six Manhattan buildings and six Queens buildings were listed. The 200 buildings currently total over 1,000 apartments units.

Under expanded legislation that would regulate mold and rodents, which cause asthma through an allergic reaction or by disturbing mold and dust, more buildings with over 20 units will be included. Apartment buildings identified under the expanded plan are expected to total around 3,000 units.

“These buildings should get more focus,” said Christine Quinn, City Council speaker, at a press conference on Tuesday. “We can not only improve housing stock, we can improve people’s health.”

Quinn added that the expansion was unlikely to impact the city’s budget, because it would shift inspectors to the same number of buildings, rather than creating more inspections.

City Council members Rosie Mendez and Leticia James co-sponsored the legislation, and local groups Make the Road New York, the Urban Justice Center and Fifth Avenue Committee also advocated for the expansion.

Luisa Mejia of Make the Road New York, a tenant of 1406 Putnam Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said in a statement that she, her daughter, son and grandson all had asthma because of the conditions of her apartment, which she has lived for 20 years.

“There is a lot of mold in the bathroom and mice and cockroaches through my apartment,” she said. “Asthma is an epidemic in our community. The main reason is because the landlords don’t fix the apartment buildings."

In Bushwick, the asthma rate is four times the city-wide average, according to Make the Road New York.

The Council expects to vote on the expansion in either its December or January stated meeting.