- HPD should continue to seek State legislation enabling it to adjudicate NOVs and issue and docket penalties for uncorrected violations without having to obtain judgments in the Housing Part of the Civil Court. To accomplish this, HPD should use the results of this report to convince legislators that HPD needs greater enforcement authority to effectively achieve owner compliance with the Housing Maintenance Code.
Agency Response: "We agree. We support the bill that is currently in the legislature to create the administrative tribunal."
TenantNet Note [not part of the report]: For a variety of reasons, this proposal, as it currently exists, could potentially be very harmful to tenants and many tenants oppose this particular proposal. The idea of an administrative tribunal without making a concomitant and serious effort at code enforcement is wheel spinning. In the last ten years, the number of city housing inspectors has dwindled from around 800 to less than 200. Moreover, current "administrative tribunals" do not allow tenants to have standing "as of right" to become parties to any proceeding to enforce the code against a recalcitrant landlord. It is very likely that HPD, DHCR and the Housing Courts will "refer" tenants HP actions, service complaints and affirmative warranty of habitability defenses to a tribunal in which tenants have no standing.
- HPD should inform tenants of their right to take their landlords to Housing Court when their landlords fail to correct the violations. Specifically, HPD should develop a printed flyer or booklet that would be handed out to tenants when inspections are performed.
Agency Response: "We will consider this recommendation as part of a tenant verification notice mailed to tenants reporting non-emergency conditions. When Premisys is operational we anticipate the issuance of such notices will be simplified."
Auditors' Comments: Our recommendation is feasible at the present time, and it is independent of the installation of the a new computer system. All tenants with uncorrected housing code violations, especially those living in immediately hazardous conditions, should be made aware of their legal rights when landlords ignore the violations that HPD inspectors identify. We see no reason at all why HPD should delay in designing and distributing this relatively inexpensive, simple, and potentially effective mechanism.
- HPD should reinspect a sample of correction certifications and initiate litigation to penalize those landlords who submit false statements to HPD claiming they have corrected the violations. Such litigation should be publicized so that owners are informed that they cannot submit false certifications with impunity.
Agency Response: "Under current law, owners face only a $250 additional penalty for falsely certifying that a condition has been corrected. Compared to the thousands of dollars in penalties that they face for non-correction, the false certification penalty carries very little weight. HPD has in the past unsuccessfully sought increases in the penalty from the City Council."
Auditors' Comments: If, as part of litigation against an owner for false certifications, HPD also sought penalties for the uncorrected housing code violations, we believe that this recommendation could be implemented with substantial monetary incentives that would encourage landlords to take notices of violations more seriously. Until penalties are imposed on landlords for false certifications, landlords have great incentive to misrepresent the correction of violations, and HPD will continue to inaccurately report in the MMR that it "removes" a large percentage of the violations it identifies each year. This indicator gives the public and elected officials a false sense of what HPD's code enforcement efforts are actually accomplishing.