1 Centre Street, Room 526
New York, NY 10007
June 26, 1995
LEAH C. JOHNSON
Every year City landlords falsely claim to have corrected about 40,000 housing code violations, according to a joint investigation of New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) records by Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi and New York State Senator Franz S. Leichter (D-Man.) Even when informed that landlords were providing false information, HPD refused to take any action against them.
"If landlords know they can lie about repairs, they can ignore violations and HPD's entire housing code enforcement effort is undermined," Hevesi said. "Since there is essentially an honor system for landlords, you have to punish the ones you catch lying to send a strong message to all the others that they should make repairs. If landlords are never punished for lying, tenants have no protection from unsafe conditions."
"HPD's failure to enforce the housing code places the lives and safety of thousands of New York City tenants at risk," Leichter said.
Hevesi and Leichter have referred to the Manhattan District Attorney the names of hundreds of landlords who apparently lied to HPD. The Manhattan DA is actively reviewing the evidence to decide whether to prosecute.
In addition, the investigation found that HPD is not treating all neighborhoods in Manhattan equally. A review of 1,602 reinspections in 1994 found that the agency checked to see if landlords actually made corrections in middle and lower Manhattan, but it has not been doing reinspections of violations in three neighborhoods in northern Manhattan. HPD did only one reinspection in Washington Heights, and none at all in two areas of Harlem in 1994 However, the agency reinspected 28 percent of violations on the East Side of Manhattan from E. 30th St. to E. 62nd St., 25 percent on the Upper West Side, 24 percent in the West Village, Chelsea and Clinton and 29 percent in a section of the East Village.
"There is no possible justification for favoring upper-income Manhattan neighborhoods and not checking to see if landlords make repairs in other neighborhoods, where housing conditions are generally worse," Hevesi said.
"It is shocking that HPD's inspectors are completely neglecting to check up on landlords in predominately minority neighborhoods. HPD is ignoring communities that need housing code enforcement the most," Leichter said. "The March collapse of a building In Harlem provides a grim illustration of why the housing code must be enforced."
HPD's 200 housing code inspectors levied about 247,000 violations in 1994, Roughly six weeks after each landlord is cited, an HPD Notice of Violation is sent to the landlord. The Notice lists the violations and allows the landlords to "certify" those violations which the landlord corrects.
Each year, landlords certify that they have corrected about 100,000 violations. HPD gets no response from landlords for the other 140,000 violations. Those violations remain in HPD's records, but no action is taken by the agency. Landlords are not liable for fines unless they are taken to court. It is possible that many of the 140,000 violations are not even seen by landlords, since the investigation found thousands of Notice of Violations had been returned by the Post Office because HPD had the incorrect landlord address.
HPD reinspects only about 10 percent of the 100,000 violations that landlords certify that they have repaired. In most cases, HPD automatically accepts the landlords' word and removes the violations from its records, If HPD does not reinspect those violations within 70 days, the violations are removed from HPD records and all possibility of fines or housing-court action is lost. Landlords are warned that false certifications are subject to criminal perjury penalties of $1000.
The Comptroller's and Senator's staffs took a representative sample of 803 violations reinspected in 1994 from HPD records. They found that in 40 percent of the sample, the landlords had lied about correcting the violations. Applying the finding to the total of 100,000 certifications would indicate that 40,000 violations are allowed to escape enforcement each year!
The violations not repaired included gates and locks on fire exits that would keep people from getting out in case of a fire, missing smoke alarms, vermin infestations, exposed electrical wiring and leaky roofs.
When reinspection discovers a false certification, HPD does not remove the violation from its records, but it also does not take any action against the landlord for perjury. In response to the Comptroller and Senator, HPD was unable to state whether it had ever sought to penalize any landlord for falsely certifying the correction of violations. The Comptroller and Senator in a January 6 letter appealed to HPD to take action against those few landlords who are caught miscertifying, but the HPD Commissioner rejected their recommendations.
In response, Hevesi and Leichter transmitted official New York City housing inspection records to the Manhattan District Attorney. The records document the widespread perjury among landlords falsely attesting to the correction of housing code violations. Hevesi and Leichter released the inspection records today, as well as correspondence between them and HPD Commissioner Deborah Wright detailing the extent to which landlords overall are falsifying records, allowing housing code violations to be improperly removed from HPD records, and thereby escaping HPD housing code fines. They also released a letter documenting the pattern of apparent geographic disparities in reinspections.
As a result of staff reductions due to the State and City budget problems, the number of HPD inspectors has been cut from 435 in 1991 to 200 today. This has substantially reduced HPD's ability to conduct housing inspections and made it even more important that inspections that are conducted are not wasted.
"HPD is wasting the money it spends on inspections and effectively telling its inspectors that their efforts are meaningless and that tenants do not need to be protected," Hevesi said, "In effect, HPD is ignoring and condoning landlords' perjury," Senator Leichter added. "What astounds me is the waste in HPD inspection personnel that these perjured certifications represent."
Hevesi and Leichter urged the Manhattan D.A. to prosecute landlords who have broken the law, which would send a strong message to all landlords that City building codes will be vigorously enforced.