The City Council’s housing committee may pluck the final few incisors from the city’s already de-fanged housing code violation system today (Monday). Legislators are poised to pass a bill allowing landlords to hire architects and engineers to re-inspect repairs of housing code violations–a measure which could open the way to fraud and building deterioration, according to advocates.
The measure, sponsored by Brooklyn Democrat Anthony Weiner, would allow landlord-hired professionals to clear violations without ever having to submit repairs to direct review by inspectors with the city’s Department of Housing, Preservation and Development. This is the first time non-governmental inspectors would have the final word on inspections.
Currently, city inspectors–often at the request of tenants–visit buildings and issue violations to landlords where appropriate. Owners are allowed to self-certify they have made the necessary repairs, but they must have the work double-checked by an HPD inspector if they wish to have their code record cleaned.
Tenants groups charge the bill would encourage bad landlords to pay crooked architects and engineers to sign off on work that was never done. “I think this could result in the serious deterioration of the low-income housing stock in New York,” says Betsy Kane, director of the West Side SRO Law Project. “I mean the fact that the landlord can hire somebody to erase the violations record completely is a horrifying possibility.”
But Weiner says the bill is a better alternative to HPD’s badly backlogged inspection system, which has been crippled by budget cuts. Since the early 1990’s the number of city inspectors has dwindled from around 700 to 200.
“I’m not sure the bad guys are going to become good guys because of this law,” Weiner told City Limits. “But HPD is going to get a lot of violations off their books.”
Weiner introduced the bill in September at the behest of landlords in his Sheepshead Bay district, but withdrew it to accommodate HPD’s request that lead and illegal-occupancy violations be removed from the list of transgressions that could be cleared by third-party inspectors. As of the weekend, advocates were lobbying to have other violations exempted.
Still, Weiner, along with housing committee chairman Archie Spigner, who co- sponsored the bill, has done little to respond to advocates’ complaints-most notably the charge that the measure doesn’t include real penalties for engineers who fraudulently inspect repairs. Weiner’s new bill only says: “[HPD] shall forward to [the state] the name of any licensed registered architect or professional engineer who falsely certifies.”
“That’s a joke,” says Scott Sommer with the Metropolitan Council on Housing. “No fines, no real penalties. Fraud rates are going to skyrocket.”
“The city just doesn’t have the authority to pull the licenses of professional who fake certifications anyway,” says Weiner, who plans a congressional bid next year. “It’s easy to demagogue on this bill, but this will help the city clear many of the two million violations on it books. Most of those violations have already been repaired. HPD doesn’t have the organizational capacity to clear them themselves.”
The hearing on the bill, scheduled for 11 a.m. this morning (250 Broadway, 23rd floor), was not included on preliminary committee agendas released last week, fueling speculation that the Council was looking to sneak the measure in time for Wednesday’s full council meeting, the last of the year. “Boom, it’s on the calendar. Almost like a secret,” Betsy Kane says. “That’s a little peculiar. But we’ll be there to oppose it.”