Max & Murphy: Cracking Down on Bad Buildings

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Mayor de Blasio, with Public Advocate Letitia James on his right and tenant Miguelanea Rincon on his left, announcing the new initiative.

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor de Blasio, with Public Advocate Letitia James on his right and tenant Miguelanea Rincon on his left, announcing the new initiative.

Mayor de Blasio announced on Thursday the city’s latest effort to deliver the “decent” part in its decade-long policy goal of ensuring “decent, affordable housing.”

He and Public Advocate Letitia James said the city was cracking down on eight landlords whose “dirty dozen” buildings in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens boast a whopping 2,075 housing code violations. The city will appoint a tenant lawyer for each building and give the landlords 15 days to correct violations or face the withholding of rent from residents who receive public assistance.

“We will hit them where it hurts them the most – we will hit them in their wallets,” the mayor said. The move to withhold PA, which the administration said was without precedent, would take place under an obscure 1962 statute called the Spiegel Law.

Only 72 of the 1,800 tenants in the buildings receive PA, so it’s not clear that threat carries huge weight with landlords who have, if city housing inspectors are right, knowingly endangered the health and safety of hundreds of families. The other elements of the city’s threat could register more clearly.

“If the landlords still don’t get the message after that, we will go to housing court, and the city will take action against them in housing court. That can result in a building being put into receivership. In some instances, it can result in either civil or criminal charges against the landlord,” de Blasio said. “So we’re going to throw the book at these bad landlords.”

The moves announced by de Blasio and James are the most recent effort to close a frustrating gap between the city’s policy goals and its regulatory power. Hoping to force landlords to do right by their tenants, the city has over the years employed the Article 7A program, the Alternative Enforcement Program, the Emergency Repair Program and other initiatives, many of which remain in play or at least on the books. Each has been successful in different ways, but truly horrible buildings remain a reality for some tenants.

Ben Max of Gotham Gazette joins me below in the latest edition of our podcast to discuss this and other big housing-policy developments over the past week, including the latest on the Jerome Avenue rezoning, an update on NextGen NYCHA, a ranking of neighborhoods by housing risk and more.

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City Limits’ coverage of housing is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

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