The legislation that is now known as the Safe Housing Act was spearheaded by Make the Road by Walking, City Council Members, and other community organizations. We have been active for over two years in bringing about the passage of the bill formerly called the Healthy Homes Act.
They’re known as slumlords, and they’re said to prey upon the poor, the elderly and illegal immigrants. Stories abound throughout New York City of tenants who live in squalor, sometimes without heat, hot water or electricity.
The City Council now says it will crack down on these negligent landlords by empowering city housing inspectors to get more involved in making repairs at the landlord’s expense.
With a day of pomp and circumstance surrounding the initiative in City Hall yesterday, the Council introduced the "Safe Housing Act," which requires the city to identify 200 buildings each year with the worst housing code violations, intensify inspections and demand that the landlords pay to fix the problems.
The number of "serious code violations" per 1,000 rental units in the city jumped from 38.1 in 2002 to 57.8 last year, according to the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.
The bill, which Council Speaker Christine Quinn promised would "dramatically improve living conditions for New Yorkers residing in the city’s worst buildings," was applauded on Staten Island, which is home to its share of negligent landlords, some who illegally extend houses to get more bang for their buck.
Yasmin Ammirato, president of the Midland Beach Civic Association, said neighbors often knock on her door to lament poor living conditions.
"There’s been complaints about some landlords, that they had no heat, they had no water, they had poor wiring," she said. "A lot of people are afraid to speak up, especially the elderly. They’re stuck. It’s really sad."
Though she has witnessed improvements to the problem over the past decade, she said the city should get more involved in targeting negligent landlords.
"I really think the city should be on top of this, especially with all the overdevelopment on the Island," Ms. Ammirato added.
The bill, which now goes to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for approval, would give landlords four months to fix violations that are discovered by city housing inspectors.
If the problems are mended, the landlord is off the hook but still under a watchful eye. But if the landlord does not comply with repair orders, the city Housing and Preservation Department will be charged with completing the repairs at the landlord’s expense and monitoring the property for one year.
"If the landlord won’t pay, we will take the landlord to court and we will use every legal remedy possible to recoup the money that the landlord owes us, and the court has tremendous latitude in that they can take his assets, her assets, whatever," Ms. Quinn said. "I don’t believe this bill will result in the city becoming a vast landlord again as it used to be."