HPD Does Not Know Whether It Is Effectively Enforcing the Housing Code
In enforcing housing quality standards, HPD's primary goal should be to get building owners to correct Housing Code violations. However, we found that HPD does not have any method or measurement process to determine whether it is achieving such a goal. HPD measures and reports activities--such as the number of complaints received, the number of inspections performed, and the number of violations issued in a given time period--but these indicators, while they reflect principal code enforcement activities, do not indicate the outcome of these activities. Specifically, HPD does not measure whether its activities lead to increased compliance with the Housing Code or, in other words, whether inspections or NOVs result in owners making needed repairs. In short, the HPD does not know whether it is effectively enforcing the Housing Code.
The latest Mayor's Management Report (March 2, 1995) lists HPD's goal in this area as "Goal: Enforce compliance with housing quality standards" and then lists a series of objectives (e.g. "conduct 2,000 field inspection visits per code enforcement team in Fiscal 1996") that are linked to that goal. This goal and these objectives indicate that HPD needs to change the way it perceives its mission, and then needs to go about measuring its effectiveness in a different fashion. Indeed, the goal, as currently worded, implies that HPD's mission is to "enforce" laws or regulations, i.e. to identify violations and then take appropriate measures (i.e. issue notices of violation). Given such a perception, it is to be expected that the more important goal--that of actually getting Housing Code violations corrected--would remain unaddressed and, therefore, not be measured. The following sections of this report discuss this problem in more detail.
"Violations Removed" Does Not Mean "Violations Corrected"
HPD removes a number of violations from its inventory of violations each year. For fiscal year 1994, HPD reported in the Mayor's Management Report that a total of 342,000 violations were removed--284,000 violations through its Division of Code Enforcement and 58,000 through its Litigation Bureau. However, "Violations Removed" is not an indicator of program effectiveness program for two reasons. First, removal of a violation does not necessarily mean that the violation has been corrected. Violations can be removed for a number of different reasons. For example, a violation can be removed if an owner sends a certified statement to HPD attesting that the owner has made the repairs. However, these certifications may be false or inaccurate. In fact, a recent study done by the Comptroller's Office of Policy Management estimated that 40 percent of all correction certifications are false, based on their review of a limited sample of correction certifications.
Regardless of whether the actual number of false certifications is somewhat higher or lower than that 40 percent estimate, the point is that independent verification is not necessarily performed before the violation is "removed"; if an owner certifies that a violation has been corrected, and a reinspection does not occur within 70 days, the violation is automatically "removed." Thus, when HPD removes a violation as a result of an owner certification, there is no assurance that "violation removed" does in fact mean that the violation was corrected. (HPD does conduct reinspections, on a limited basis, of violations that are certified, by the owners, to have been corrected. However, if the certification is found to have been false in such cases, the only thing that happens is that the violation is not removed from HPD's database, with no legal action taken.)
In addition, violations can be removed from the inventory if HPD's Emergency Services Bureau makes a repair, if the City takes possession of the building and HPD makes repairs, or if the building has been demolished. DCE does not distinguish among these various reasons when reporting the number of violations removed.
Second, violations that are removed from the inventory in a given year may not be the same violations issued in that year. For example, in fiscal year 1994, HPD reported that it issued 298,000 violations and removed 342,000 violations--284,000 through the Division of Code Enforcement and 58,000 through the Litigation Bureau. These statistics give the public a misleading picture of the program's achievement for two reasons: 1) as stated above, "violations removed" does not necessarily mean that the violations were corrected, and 2) most violations removed were issued in previous years. In fact, our review of HPD's inventory of violations contained in HPD's violation database indicates that of the 298,000 violations issued during fiscal year 1994, 229,362 violations (77 percent) were still outstanding at the end of the fiscal year.
Thus, for "violations removed" to have any real meaning, HPD would first have to define how many came from the current fiscal year's inventory, and how many came from previous years; given the above figures, it can be calculated that if 298,000 were issued in FY 94, and 229,362 were still active at the end of the year, then only 68,838 of the 342,000 violations reported to have been removed were related to violations identified in the last fiscal year. Second, for the indicator to have any meaning, HPD would have to show what percentage of "violations removed" were, in fact, violations corrected.
To determine whether violations are corrected, HPD would have to follow up on the violations it issues. HPD management told us that it does not have enough housing inspectors to reinspect all violations to determine whether conditions are corrected. As shown in the following chart, borough code enforcement offices have experienced substantial budget cuts in recent years.
In addition, the productivity of inspectors has fallen. In fiscal year 1984 each inspection team performed an average of 10,350 inspections and reinspections; in fiscal year 1994 each team performed an average of 4,620 inspections and reinspections. Another way to look at the drop in productivity is to examine the number of inspections and reinspections per $1,000 budgeted to DCE's Borough Code Enforcement Offices for personnel costs, as shown in Chart 2 on the following page.
Despite the cutbacks to HPD's personnel budget, and, in fact, because of them, it is essential that HPD develop performance indicators to measure the success of its housing enforcement efforts. Such indicators would give public officials in charge of allocating resources an accurate portrayal of how successful the program is so that they can use this information to make budgetary decisions. This type of information may have prevented some of the budget cuts that were imposed on HPD. Indeed, if HPD had real performance indicators illustrating the true effectiveness of its enforcement of the Housing Maintenance Code, then decreases in effectiveness linked to budget cuts might have prevented further cuts, or might have enhanced arguments for restoring lost resources. In addition, performance measures indicating whether owners are complying with NOVs and correcting violations are needed so HPD can target scarce resources more effectively in the future.
HPD also needs to examine the reasons for the drop in productivity of inspection teams, and to use the reinspection process to determine its success in meeting the goal of getting owners to repair violations. At a minimum, reinspections should be done for all Class C violations, and for a representative sample of A and B violations, with the results tied to a system that measures program effectiveness in terms of the portion of violations that were actually corrected.
Other Cities We Surveyed Have a Formal Process to Determine Whether Violations Have Been Corrected
Given the absence of a measure of effectiveness of HPD's enforcement of the Housing Code, we contacted the administrators of housing inspection operations in nine U.S. cities to find out whether and how these cities measure the effectiveness of their enforcement efforts. Specifically, we wanted to know if other cities' have a formal process for determining whether or not owners actually make repairs. In contrast to New York City, all nine cities that we surveyed determine whether the violations have been corrected. Table 1 lists the cities we surveyed and summarizes the results.
Survey of Other Cities' Code Enforcement Efforts
City Does the city have a formal process to determine whether violations are corrected? Baltimore Yes Boston Yes Chicago Yes Houston Yes Miami Yes New Orleans Yes Philadelphia Yes Pittsburgh Yes Washington, D.C. Yes
The results of our survey indicate that monitoring whether violations are ultimately corrected is a common practice that is crucial to measuring the success of code enforcement activities. To determine the effectiveness of its Housing Code enforcement efforts, HPD must conduct reinspections geared towards reporting on the disposition of previously issued NOVs for substandard housing conditions. Only by monitoring and reporting on the number and percentage of violations corrected, or not corrected, can HPD and elected officials know whether HPD is fulfilling its mandated responsibility and whether the agency is using the dollars budgeted for housing code enforcement effectively.
- HPD should develop appropriate reinspection processes and performance indicators geared toward showing whether violations have been corrected, and whether these violations were corrected by the landlords or by HPD. To accomplish this, HPD should conduct reinspections of all Class C violations and a representative sample of Class A and Class B violations.
Agency Response: "As described more fully in the text of this response, fully 92 % of emergency conditions are corrected, either through Emergency Repair by HPD or by the owner. Without an appropriate adjudicative mechanism, as exists in the other cities mentioned in the audit, reinspections would drain inspection resources from emergency complaints and fail to accomplish higher compliance."
Auditors' Comments: As discussed in the next section of this report, we tested a sample of immediately hazardous violations, all of which were referred to HPD's Emergency Services Bureau, and we determined that only 57 percent had been corrected. We also found that HPD does not monitor the correction of immediately hazardous conditions: more than 38,000 that were identified by HPD inspectors during fiscal year 1994 were still on HPD's database of violations as of July 1994. In addition, we found that HPD wastes inspection resources by continually inspecting the same condition, each time issuing a new NOV. We believe that until HPD begins to measure the outcome of the violations it has issued, wasteful inspection practices will continue and tenants will continue to live in immediately hazardous conditions. Unless HPD implements Recommendation 1 and develops appropriate performance indicators, HPD will not know what its code enforcement efforts are actually accomplishing. As discussed later in more detail in the agency response section of this report, we also seriously question HPD's unsubstantiated claim of a 92 % violation correction rate.
- HPD should make these types of performance indicators public and include them in The Mayor's Management Report. The public and public officials would then have meaningful indicators to rely on when making decisions regarding Housing Code enforcement policy and budget allocations.
Agency Response: "We will continue to meet with the Mayor's Office of Operations to review the effectiveness of our MMR indicators."
Auditors' Comments: Given HPD's response to recommendation #1, we consider this response to be relatively meaningless. Nonetheless, we continue to urge HPD to consider the importance of developing meaningful indicators that reveal the outcome of HPD's code enforcement efforts--whether violations are corrected--rather than just the quantity of violations issued or inspections performed.
- HPD should change its goal and objectives in the MMR, and redefine them more in terms of getting violations corrected, rather than in terms of merely "enforcing compliance." HPD should work with the Mayor's Office of Operations to accomplish this by the time the next MMR is issued.
Agency Response: "As stated above, we will continue to meet with the Mayor's Office of Operations on our MMR indicators. However, regarding actual correction of violations, even without the administrative tribunal to adjudicate all violations, Code Enforcement has a 92 % correction rate. The auditors should recognize that the mission of violation correction has been clearly allocated to the Housing Litigation Bureau in the MMR."
Auditors' Comments: None of HPD's MMR indicators currently describe the number or percent of violations corrected each year. To determine HPD's effectiveness in that area, and as discussed in more detail in the next section of this report, we tested a sample of violations ourselves. These violations were taken from the population of immediately hazardous violations, excluding those violations for lack of heat and hot water, that were identified by HPD inspectors during fiscal year 1994 and were listed on HPD's database of violations as of July 1994. We concluded that 43 percent of the violations in our sample were not corrected an average of one year after the violations were identified by HPD inspectors. We found that none of HPD's Borough Units, Bureaus, or Offices currently has the correction of violations as a formal and measurable goal, and until this goal is adopted and performance measured accordingly, HPD will continue to identify violations without ensuring that these violations are ultimately corrected.
According to Our Measurement of HPD Effectiveness: Forty-three Percent of Immediately Hazardous Violations Still Existed an Average of One Year After They Were Identified by HPD Inspectors
Because, as previously stated, HPD does not measure its effectiveness in terms of getting violations corrected, we did such an exercise, restricting it to the most hazardous violations identified by HPD for conditions other than lack of heat and hot water.
We randomly selected a statistical sample of Class C "immediately hazardous" Housing Code violations identified by HPD inspectors during fiscal year 1994 that were still listed on HPD's database of violations as of July 12, 1994. In February and March 1995, we visited the residences to determine whether the conditions were corrected. We found that 43 percent of the violations we inspected were not corrected and 57 percent were corrected. Based on these sample results, we estimate that 13,889 immediately hazardous violations identified during fiscal year 1994--which, according to the Housing Maintenance Code, should have been corrected within 24 hours--still existed seven months after the end of the fiscal year. On average, the violations were at least a year old at the time of our visits. As a result, thousands of tenants continue to live in conditions that are immediately hazardous to their health and safety.
The uncorrected violations we visited included peeling lead paint in apartments where children under age seven reside, broken plaster, and rodent infestation. In one case, we found that a window was missing on a fourth floor stairwell. The condition had been identified by an HPD inspector in March 1994. When we made our visit the following February, the window was still missing. In an apartment we visited on February 23, 1995, the walls were completely covered with mold and mildew, endangering the health of the occupants; this condition had been identified by HPD eight months earlier in May 1994. In another apartment, a water leak by a ceiling light fixture posed a fire hazard. In a building we visited on February 21, 1994, the owner has installed a double cylinder lock on the entrance door, endangering the lives and safety of tenants should they need to exit the building in the event of a fire. This condition was identified by HPD on April 26, 1994. Appendix 2 describes the types of conditions we found, conditions that have not yet been corrected. Photographs of the conditions we found appear in Appendix 3. [not included in the electronic edition]
In summary, if HPD had a goal of getting a certain percentage of Class C violations corrected within a certain amount of time, it would not appear to be doing very well against such a goal. Indeed, 43 percent of its Class C violations remained uncorrected at least 7 months, and on average one year, after they were issued. While we make no judgment on HPD's effectiveness in getting other less hazardous violations corrected (i.e. Class A and Class B), the results of our tests indicate that there should be serious concerns on the part of HPD as to how well it is accomplishing its mission. And, we believe that redefining the mission and then measuring effectiveness in the manner that was recommended earlier would be the necessary first step in helping HPD improve its performance.
New York City Is Less Effective Than Other Cities in Correcting Housing Code Violations
The 57 percent correction-of-violations rate in NYC is lower than the violation correction rate of any of the cities we surveyed. Four of the nine cities we surveyed have processes in place that enable them to evaluate effectiveness in terms of the percentage of violations that are corrected. We contacted the administrators of code enforcement programs in these four cities to determine the percentage of violations--for conditions other than lack of heat and hot water--that are corrected. Overall, NYC has the lowest correction rate, as shown in Chart 3.
Percentage of Violations Corrected
in Various U.S. Cities
Baltimore 92 Chicago 92.5 Philadelphia 85 Pittsburgh 85* New York 57
Source: Survey of Administrators of Housing Code Enforcement Programs, March 1995
* Pittsburgh's correction rate goes up to 95 percent after remaining cases are litigated.
To determine the reason for this disparity in correction rates of non-heat violations, we asked the administrators of the housing code enforcement programs in other cities about their enforcement processes, and compared them to HPD's code enforcement process. All of the cities contacted have different enforcement resources, responsibilities, and processes. However, in contrast to NYC, all of the other cities do have formal processes in place to follow up on uncorrected violations with increasingly aggressive enforcement action against landlords.
Baltimore's Director of Housing Inspections said that virtually all violations are ultimately resolved by either correction by the landlord, correction by the city, or by the building being vacated. Hazardous violations are more closely monitored than less serious violations. For example, every quarter a listing of all outstanding uncorrected hazardous conditions is generated and examined for each of Baltimore's seven geographical inspection areas. Baltimore uses information on the level of uncorrected violations per geographical area to identify potential problems and modify enforcement efforts before the problems escalate. According to the Director, the enforcement process and correction rate for violations is the same for all hazardous violations, whether the violation consists of a lack of heat and hot water or some other hazardous condition. Not correcting a violation is considered a criminal misdemeanor in Baltimore, and landlords are subject to fines and/or imprisonment if buildings are not maintained. Baltimore has three prosecutors--two full-time and one part-time who work exclusively on housing, sanitation, and zoning violations. In addition, code enforcement personnel meet weekly with the prosecutors to discuss prosecution/enforcement efforts. Baltimore does have a program similar to HPD's Emergency Repair Program, but it is used infrequently, primarily for hardship cases or for demolishing vacant buildings.
In Philadelphia a minimum of thirty days after a violation is identified, a reinspection will occur. At the first reinspection, inspectors find that roughly 30 percent to 35 percent of the landlords have complied with the initial notice and have corrected the violations. If the inspector finds upon reinspection that the violation still exists, a summons is sent and a court date set. The most life-threatening violations are prosecuted in Philadelphia's Court of Equity. All other uncorrected housing code violations are referred to Philadelphia's Code Enforcement Office for prosecution. The Code Enforcement Unit is staffed by about 4 or 5 office workers who, although they are not attorneys, initiate litigation and represent the City against landlords in Philadelphia's Municipal Court. Approximately 15 days before the court date, another reinspection will occur. Inspectors find that at this second reinspection, another 50 percent of the violations are corrected in response to the summons, for a total of 85 percent compliance before litigation. Philadelphia has a program similar to HPD's Emergency Repair Program, but it is used mainly for demolishing vacant buildings.
In Chicago, the Buildings Department has the ability to conduct administrative hearings to adjudicate violations before taking a case to the court system. (As stated earlier, Chicago had the highest violation correction rate.) Between February 1994 and February 1995, at the first reinspection after initial notices of violation are sent to landlords, inspectors found that 49.5 percent of violations were corrected. An additional 43 percent of violations were corrected through the administrative hearing process within Chicago's Department of Buildings, resulting in a total of 92.5 percent violation correction rate before a court case was held. These correction rates applies to violations for conditions other than lack of heat and hot water; Chicago has higher rates of compliance on heat cases basically because Chicago gives heat violations greater emergency repair priority.
In Pittsburgh, the Chief of Pittsburgh's Code Enforcement said that after an initial violation, Code Enforcement will follow up with reinspections, phone calls, and perhaps a second notice. After that, landlords are brought into housing court where they may be fined and a judgment rendered against them. Approximately 85 percent of violations are corrected prior to the housing court process. Through Pittsburgh's court process, violation compliance rate increases to about 95 percent. This violation correction rate does not include violations for lack of heat and hot water. In Pittsburgh, heat and hot water violations fall under the jurisdiction of the County Health Department. However, the violation does includes other types of violations which, in NYC, might fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Buildings.
It appears that a higher rate of violations remain uncorrected in NYC because, unlike in other cities, most NYC owners can ignore the violation notices and not make repairs with impunity. HPD does not reinspect every violation. All of the cities surveyed have procedures in place to follow up on uncorrected violations with further enforcement efforts. However, NYC's HPD does not have the legal staff to take most owners to court and obtain judgments against them for not correcting violations. In FY 1994, while inspectors issued over 300,000 violations, HPD's Litigation Unit initiated between 600 and 700 "comprehensive" cases for uncorrected maintenance and repair in buildings with a long history of hundreds of uncorrected violations.
In addition, HPD does not have the resources to arrange for emergency repairs of all hazardous conditions when the owners fail to correct violations on their buildings. However, as our survey showed, other cities do not have as extensive an emergency repair program as NYC, yet they all reported higher correction rates of violations.
Although HPD has sought increased authority from the State Legislature to enforce penalties against owners without having to initiate litigation in housing court, it is not likely that such legislation will be approved in the near future. Until such legislation is passed, the most likely means for obtaining owner compliance with the Housing Code is through tenants. HPD's Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Housing Preservation told us that more housing code corrections result from tenant initiated actions in the housing court than from any other source. Unfortunately, tenants are often unaware of the Housing Code and their right to take landlords to court for Housing Code violations.
The point of the entire preceding discussion is not to explain or to speculate why other cities reported more effective programs than HPD's. Indeed, each City differs in its responsibilities and approach, and has resources or legal tools that are not or may not be available in NYC. The point is that each other city, unlike NYC, has a reinspection process in place to determine the outcome of its initial actions, which does or could enable each city to measure effectiveness. In contrast, NYC, which lacks such reinspection and feedback mechanisms, can easily be fooled into thinking that it is the mere quantity of existing processes (i.e. how many inspections, or reinspections, were performed, how many NOVs were issued) that affects its performance, but it will never know for sure because it does not monitor and/or measure performance like the other cities. Absent such mechanisms, NYC not only lacks information on how well it is doing, but, more importantly, lacks information needed to fine tune or refine the program, to obtain more or different resources, or to assist in encouraging the passing of needed legislation.
Multiple Inspections and Repeated NOVs Do Not Necessarily Achieve Any Results
HPD's database of violations validates what we found in our field visits: that complaints are investigated, problems are found, and violations are issued; however, many repairs are not done. We examined records of NOVs on HPD's database of violations. In particular, we selected three buildings with hundreds of violations on record, and examined the violation information on these buildings. HPD's database records indicate that inspectors inspect the same condition repeatedly, and that they issue multiple NOVs for the same uncorrected conditions. Repeatedly inspecting the same condition and issuing new NOVs just adds to the count of activities performed and obfuscates what the practice indicates: that HPD is not always effective in attaining a goal of achieving owner compliance with the Housing Code. Unlike other cities, which have formal processes for following up on existing violations, NYC, in effect, ignores violations that inspectors have previously identified and issues new violations repeatedly.
For example, at 406 West 129th Street we found that inspectors repeatedly inspected each of 131 previously cited conditions in the building, resulting in new NOVs being issued for these conditions. A total of 356 violations were issued for these 131 conditions. One of these conditions involved inadequate gas being provided to kitchen fixtures. The problem was investigated and, on March 25, 1988, a violation was issued. On April 8, 1988, another inspection was done and another NOV was issued. Between June 20, 1988, and November 12, 1992, 12 additional NOVs were issued for the same condition. Thus, over a four and a half year period 14 separate inspections were done for the same condition. In another apartment a violation for a missing smoke detector was first noted by an inspector on January 19, 1988. On March 3, 1988, another NOV was issued for the same violation. Between August 1, 1988, and September 14, 1992, the same problem was noted ten more times, for a total of 12 times in almost five years. In another apartment, an NOV for a leak near a light fixture--an immediately hazardous violation--was first issued on March 7, 1988. Two more NOVs were issued for this condition within the next month. A total of four NOVs were eventually issued.
A building located at 234 West 147 Street in Manhattan accumulated 1,067 violations in ten years; 216 of these violations were for 85 conditions. In one apartment, a violation for a leaky and/or defective faucet was issued on May 23, 1994. Additional violations for the faucet were issued on May 31, June 9, and June 20. In the same building, 14 violations were issued between June 1989 and March 1993 for a broken or defective lock on the entrance door. In another example, violations were issued in January and October in 1989 because a notice was not posted stating the name and location of the person designated to allow access to the building's heating system. The same violation was issued five more times between July 8, 1992, and April 25, 1994.
At 294 Fort Washington Avenue in Manhattan 537 violations were issued over six years; 126 of them were for 56 conditions. In one case, a violation was issued for a missing or defective smoke detector on July 18, 1989, and again on November 15, 1990. During the next 14 months, four more violations were issued. In another case, in a period of less than two weeks, three violations were written for a cascading ceiling leak in the same bathroom.
HPD's practice of repeatedly inspecting the same condition without the condition ever being corrected indicates that HPD's processes for enforcing the Housing Maintenance Code, while not very effective as a whole, can be totally ineffective when owners simply ignore NOVs. Given its current authority, HPD does not have the resources to penalize landlords for not correcting the violations. The City's Administrative Code specifies owners are subject to certain penalties when the owners do not correct violations. However, HPD does not have the authority to collect these penalties without litigation. To enforce penalties, HPD must obtain judgments against the owners in the Housing Part of the Civil Court. Because HPD does not have the resources to initiate litigation against most building owners for uncorrected violations, it is not likely that owners will be penalized for ignoring the NOVs received from HPD.
Similarly, HPD's Emergency Repair Program does not have the resources to conduct emergency repairs for every uncorrected class C violation. HPD notifies its Emergency Services Bureau of each class C violation inspector's identify. However, hazardous conditions like the ones we found in our sample persist for months with no action taken.
We believe that unless HPD begins to define the correction of violations as its overall goal, the agency will continue to measure the success of its Housing Code enforcement efforts in terms of the number of activities it performs. This leads to an ironic situation. Indeed, given the massive number of inspections conducted and NOVs issued at the previously cited buildings, HPD appears to be very effective, if only by virtue of the quantity of its activities. In reality, however, in such cases HPD is merely "spinning its wheels," since the practice of repeatedly inspecting the same condition without the condition ever being corrected indicates that Housing Code enforcement efforts are not successful when owners ignore NOVs. If HPD monitored the outcome of previously issued NOVs, scarce inspection resources would not be wasted on repeated inspections of the same condition. Instead, other measures could be taken. While HPD may not have sufficient resources to make emergency repairs or bring landlords to court for every uncorrected violation, this does not mean that the alternative is for HPD to inspect a condition repeatedly, each time issuing a new NOV. Under HPD's current performance monitoring system, this inefficient, ineffective use of resources cannot be properly identified and, consequently, it cannot be addressed by policy makers.
When Owners Correct Violations, 39 Percent Do Not Notify HPD; When They Do Notify HPD, 27 Percent Are False
We found that the certification process, which provides owners with a mechanism for removing violations from HPD records when the owners correct the violations, is not effective. Under the certification process, owners can complete the preprinted form attached to all NOVs and send it to HPD by the specified "Correction Date" certifying that they have corrected the violation. Unless HPD reinspects the violation within 70 days of receipt of this correction certification, the violation is deemed corrected and HPD removes the violation from its inventory of outstanding violations. While HPD inspectors have found instances of false certifications, HPD has never initiated litigation against an owner for falsely certifying the correction of a violation.
Violations that were certified as corrected after the due date for certifications, "late certifications", were part of our sample. Of the 33 violations certified as corrected by landlords after the certification due date, 9 of these violations (27 percent) still existed when the auditors visited the residence; in 4 of these violations, the owner had done some work, but the violation was not completely repaired. In addition to false certifications, some landlords do not notify HPD when they make repairs. For the 54 violations in our sample where auditors determined that landlords had made the repairs, only 33 of the landlords (61 percent) sent certification statements notifying HPD.
These results indicate that HPD cannot rely on the certification process to determine whether violations are corrected. Violations are removed from HPD's inventory of outstanding violations when they should not be removed, and violations stay in HPD's inventory when the conditions have been corrected.
There Are 66,000 Lead Paint Violations Listed on HPD's Database
Thousands of violations listed on HPD's database are for peeling lead paint in residences where children live. Obviously, all Class C violations are of concern because they represent immediately hazardous conditions. However, of specific concern is the fact that within HPD's database of violations, there are 66,000 violations coded by violation order number "555", which is defined by HPD as "Requires deleading of walls and ceilings in class of buildings in which a child or children six years of age and under reside." Since HPD does not know and does not measure to what extent its violations are corrected (as was described earlier in the report), HPD does not know the correction rate for these types of violations either. These are of special concern because children who ingest peeling lead paint may develop lead-poisoning, which can cause learning disabilities and brain damage.
The City has already started to incur serious financial costs as a result of settlements of claims filed in cases of children who have been lead-poisoned in buildings owned by the City (in rem buildings, for the most part). (These settlements and costs are not related to "555" violations as is discussed later in this section of the report.) In fact, all types of lead-poisoning-related claims are growing very quickly. In fiscal year 1993, 75 claims were filed; in fiscal year 1994, 394 claims were filed, an increase of 425 percent. Non-"555"-related claims often result in significant settlements to the claimants. In fiscal year 1993, the City paid a settlement of $2,500,000 to one claimant. In fiscal year 1994, the City paid a total of $2,563,000 for 12 cases, for an average settlement of $213,000 per claim. The following table summarizes claims and settlements over the past two fiscal years.
Lead Poisoning Claims and Settlements
Fiscal Year Number of Claims Filed
Number of Claims Settled
(No "555"-Related Types)
1993 75 1 $2.5 million 1994 394 12 $2.6 million
It should be emphasized that the circumstances related to the above settlements relate solely, to our knowledge, to instances where: 1) the building was City-owned and 2) lead poisoning or elevated blood levels of lead had been established.
As of July 1994, HPD had more than 66,000 peeling lead paint violations in its inventory of violations. As stated earlier, these are "555" violations. They do not represent the same circumstances as those described above which resulted in settlements. These "555" violations are issued to owners of private buildings when no more than a potential hazard has been identified because of the combination of the existence of peeling lead paint and the residing on the premises of a young child.
Nevertheless, according to the Law Department, the number of claims filed against the City in such "555" cases is increasing. These types of claims have not yet resulted in any verdicts against the City and the City's liability has not even been tested yet.
Most importantly, "555" violations are issued under circumstances where potential hazards to young children have been identified. We therefore believe that measuring the correction rate of these violations is just as important as, if not more important than, measuring the outcome of all Class C violations, which is the basic conclusion of this audit.
HPD Should Inform Tenants of Their Rights in Getting Violations Corrected
When we visited residences to determine whether the specific violations in our sample had been corrected, we often found that the apartments and buildings we visited had multiple uncorrected Housing Code violations. We spoke to tenants who related their experiences in getting problems resolved. Some tenants told us that they repeatedly call HPD and that, in their words, "an inspection occurs and nothing gets done." Most tenants with uncorrected violations in the sample of residences we visited did not know that if their landlords received NOVs from HPD. They also did not know that they could initiate actions in Housing Court to obtain a judge's order to repair the conditions that resulted in the violations. In addition, most of the tenants did not know about HPD's Emergency Repair Program.
A few tenants we spoke to wanted to know what they could do to get repairs done. HPD should inform tenants that it has limited resources and that it cannot take each owner to court in an effort to have every violation corrected. HPD should advise tenants of their right to initiate actions in Housing Court where judges can order owners to make the repairs and impose penalties against owners who do not comply with these court orders.
We excluded heat and hot water violations for reasons described in the Scope and Methodology section of this report.
Based upon our sample size of 365, from a total population of 32,286 Class C violations, we are 95 percent confident that 13,889, or 43.02 percent of the violations still exist. The sampling error is plus or minus 5.05 percent.
Because heat violations can occur on two separate occasions--as when the owner does not provide adequate heat in November and then again in February--we did not include heat and hot water violations when determining the number of times one particular condition was repeatedly inspected.
Violations certified as corrected by owners by the certification due dates were not part our sample because these violations are removed from HPD's database of violations.