By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — The City Council is trying to up the heat on landlords who fail to provide heat and hot water to tenants year after year.
Under new legislation debated by the City Council Tuesday, landlords who fail to keep tenants warm a second year in a row will be subject to higher fines than first offenders. The bill is intended to crack down on landlords who have calculated that it’s cheaper to pay the fines than shell out for heating bills.
"They are making a mockery of the system," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who sponsored the bill as part of a larger push for legislation to close loopholes that he argues reward bad behavior.
"So many New Yorkers, sadly, are living without heat and hot water," he said. "That's an unacceptable reality in our city."
The legislation comes as 311 complaints about inadequate heat and hot water have spiked roughly 8 percent this winter, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
So far this season, 153,537 calls have been made to 311 complaining about not having heat and hot water, according to the department, which has issued nearly 8,000 violations since October 2010, according to Vito Mustaciuolo, HPD’s deputy commissioner of enforcement and neighborhood services. Officials blame the spike on a frigid winter that has been colder than last year's.
The way the law currently stands, landlords receive a $250 to $500 fine every day they leave residents in the cold on their first offense, and $500 to $1,000 a day for subsequent violations in the same dwelling the same year.
If the new law is passed, the higher fine threshold would extend to repeat violations over two years instead of one.
Upper Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said that the issue was especially serious for residents of Inwood and Washington Heights, an area which has been logging the most complaints of any neighborhood in the borough.
The neighborhood is currently home to 10 buildings on de Blasio's "NYC's Worst Landlords Watch List" that have at least one open heat or hot water violation on file with HPD.
A second bill also up for debate Tuesday would force landlords to install thermometers in every apartment building unit's living room so that tenants know the temperature indoors.
Mustaciuolo said the department opposes the thermometer law as "unnecessary" because temperatures must be verified by inspectors using certified devices. But housing advocates applauded the idea.
Gladys Puglla, 47, who is on the board of directors at Make the Road New York, one of the advocacy groups that testified at the hearing, urged the council to pass the bills.
"It’s a struggle," said Puglla, who said she often keeps the stove on, boils water, and uses small heaters to keep herself, her three children and her granddaughter warm at night because of inadequate heat.