COMPTROLLER OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
l CENTRE STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10007-2341
ALAN G. HEVESI
June 19, 1995
Ms. Deborah C Wright
Department of Housing Preservation and Development
City of New York
100 Gold Street
New York NY 10038
Re: Housing Code Certifications
Dear Commissioner Wright:
Our continuing review of your Department's program for policing landlord claims of having made housing-code corrections has uncovered additional problems. We have concluded that there is a troubling failure on the part of HPD's housing-code inspectors to reinspect code violations certified as corrected by landlords in buildings in Upper Manhattan. Your Department's records indicate that while HPD's inspectors are significantly more vigilant in protecting tenants in lower and mid-Manhattan from false landlord claims, HPD conducted virtually no reinspections in 1994 in Harlem, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods in northern Manhattan. By virtue of geography, income, or even ethnicity, a significant population of Manhattan residents are being ignored.
For our research, we tabulated the entire 1994 inspection records for seven sizable sections of Manhattan, covering large portions of lower, mid, and upper Manhattan, both east and west side. Our information is that 1994 was a typical year for selection of addresses for reinspections. As the table included later in this letter indicates, Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood landlords can submit false claims of having corrected violations with impunity. These landlords know they will never be caught. Their buildings' violations will be stricken from HPD's records. They will never be brought to housing court, and they will never be threatened with fines for these violations. Their tenants will remain at risk.
Because of the method by which HPD files are maintained outside of Manhattan, we cannot ascertain whether a similar geographic and racial imbalance in HPD code enforcement is occurring in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
As we described in our first letter to you, dated January 6 landlords "certify" to the correction of roughly 100,000 housing code violations annually. Certifications are made on HPD forms called Notices of Violation, which generally contain about 5 violations each. These 100,000 violations are roughly one-third of the total number of violations levied each year by HPD's inspection force. Our review of files in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn indicated that only about 10% of all certification claims are reinspected by the Department. Our sampling of these reinspections, called "CIV-2s," showed that roughly 40% of the certified violations were not in fact corrected. Landlords, in these instances,, had apparently misrepresented themselves to your Department.
Our January 6 letter further noted that this proportion of mis-certifications was probably replicated among the entire year's inventory of 100,000 certified violations. Thus, we estimated that almost 40,000 violations are being swept from HPD's records each year, when the violations are never in fact corrected. Moreover, we noted that your Department had not sought to discourage mis-certifications by seeking felony convictions against errant landlords. In effect, Department inaction invites further phony landlord certifications. In sum, HPD's honor system is a sham, and tenants suffer for it.
Our follow-up, February 23rd letter to you stated that we had referred to the Manhattan District Attorney the approximately 300 landlords identified in our research sample as having mis-certified in 1994. We understand that the District Attorney is actively reviewing our materials.
Our continuing review of Notices of Violations and reinspections, which we present to you now, reveals that your Department clearly avoids code enforcement in Upper Manhattan. One result of this is that the chance of landlords being caught submitting phony housing-code corrections in Manhattan depends upon the location of the landlord's buildings. In 1994, the reinspection rate of the Notices we sampled was 25 to 30% for buildings in lower Manhattan, midtown, and the upper East Side and Upper West Side.
For landlords above 100th Street, however, the percentage of reinspections plummets. For example, only-one of the 114 Notices of Violations submitted to HPD in 1994 for buildings located from West 190th Street through West 204th Street was reinspected. These 114 Notices contained perhaps 500 housing code violations, which were claimed as having been corrected and were therefore swept from HPD's records. By any estimate, this is a complete abdication of your Department's responsibility to these mostly low-income neighborhoods and tenants.
In the table supplied below, we have-summarized the results of our survey of 1994 Notices of Violations which had been returned to HPD with violations certified as having been corrected and the rate of follow-up reinspections. The format of our statistical table was dictated by the way in which HPD maintains its data and documents. We utilized two sources of information:
1. The file of un-reinspected Notices of Violation, maintained by the Manhattan HPD field office, which contains certified Notices by streets, which are bundled in either numerical order for number streets or by alphabetical order for name streets. Our review used selected files of number streets only, so that the buildings would be located in the same neighborhood. (Alphabetically ordered name streets, of course, are not necessarily in geographic proximity.)
2. The field office inventory of reinspections, also maintained by the Manhattan office, listing all reinspected addresses. Thus, tallying the file of the Notices which were never reinspected with the list of reinspected Notices provided us with an entire inventory of Notices returned by landlords with certified housing-code corrections.
It is important to note that reinspections may be one of the few areas in which HPD has enforcement discretion. The locations of a large percentage of inspections are dictated by Housing Court filings and actions. Moreover, dismissal requests by landlords require HPD inspections. Reinspections pursuant to landlord certifications, however, are conducted at the Department's discretion. For this reason especially, the de facto redlining by HPD of upper Manhattan is disturbing.
Within the past couple of months, HPD has opened a 125th Street field office. However, we cannot surmise that by simply moving inspectors within Upper Manhattan, the Department will significantly improve on its track record of reinspecting buildings there. Though HPD has long had inspectors stationed at a field office on 145th Street, our sample shows the Department not reinspecting any certified violations from West 146th Street through west 150th Street last year. Yet in that neighborhood in 1994, landlords attested to having corrected approximately 1000 code violations in 215 Notices of Violation. Clearly, the geographical proximity of inspectors has not translated into a concern for tenants in the surrounding neighborhood.
We would appreciate your response as soon as possible.
Alan G. Hevesi Franz S. Leichter