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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Courier
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

City cracks down on unsafe housing

A reform bill was passed by the city council requiring building owners to remediate asthma-triggering housing code violations.

The new bill amended the 2007 Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP) under the Safe Housing Law used by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to correct housing maintenance conditions by building owners.

“This new legislation cracks down on lawless landlords whose dangerously substandard buildings threaten the health of thousands,” said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road New York (MRNY).

The new act has been designed to strengthen the impact of the AEP and fix the city’s worst buildings.

According to the HPD, of the 200 worst buildings this year, seven have been located in Queens, 23 in Manhattan, 70 in the Bronx, 99 in Brooklyn, and one in Staten Island.

The HPD noted the criteria for buildings classified as hazardous include lack of heat and hot water, mold, and vermin infestation.

“The modification of the Safe Housing Act is an important first step in ensuring that families with asthma can have a comprehensive remedy for indoor contaminants,” said Harvey Epstein, director of community development at the Urban Justice Center.

According to the New York State Asthma Surveillance 2009 Summary Report, in 2007 there were 15,971 reported asthma emergency department visits in Queens.

Maria Cortes, tenant and MRNY member, has made several emergency room visits as a result of respiratory problems caused by mold and roach infestation.

“My building has 186 open violations, 40 of which correspond to my apartment,” said Cortes. “Tenants should not have to suffer from asthma attacks because our building owners are violating the law.”

“The expansion of the Safe Housing Act is a significant step forward,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee. “Infestations of mold and vermin that are not handled properly pose significant threats to health.”

“Asthma is epidemic,” said Friedman. “This bill is an important step toward ending the impunity that is literally taking our children’s breath away.”

Advocates also noted that people should call 3-1-1 to place a complaint on code violations in their buildings.

“I think it is a very important victory in the fight for safe housing,” said Angel Vera, MRNY housing organizer. “This law ensures protection for tenants, but time is needed in the process of educating.”

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