Advocates have headed off a councilman’s bid to further weaken the city’s controversial policy of allowing landlords to certify repairs on housing code violations in their own buildings.
Last Wednesday, Brooklyn Democrat Anthony David Weiner introduced a bill landlords hope will make it easier for them to have building code violations removed from their records. But after tenant groups and fellow council members criticized the measure as putting tenants in poorly-maintained buildings at greater risk, Wiener quickly withdrew it.
“We’re going to completely re-draft the bill,” said Weiner’s press secretary Stacey Fitzpatrick. When asked why Weiner, who plans to run for Congress next year, introduced the bill, she replied: “We heard from a few landlords about the fact that it’s really difficult and expensive to get your name off the [overdue violation] list.”
Under current law, the city Department of Housing, Preservation and Development requires owners to submit a statement saying they have made violation repairs within one to 90 days, depending upon the severity of the violation. If landlords don’t do the repairs in time, they are assessed a $300 fine per violation–and have a 50-50 chance of having an HPD inspector re-inspect the violation. A slate of such violations on a building’s record can void or delay its sale.
Weiner’s bill would have given landlords the option of hiring an architect or engineer to certify the re-inspection, guaranteeing that an HPD inspector would never re-inspect the property to criticize the repairs–or find new problems. “Why would you spend more money to have it done?” asked Andrew Goldberg, an attorney for MFY Legal Services. “You’re going to be more comfortable with your guy than the city’s guy.”
Still, tenant advocates say the whole debate over Wiener’s measure misses the real point: HPD’s lack of housing inspectors and its unwillingness to go after landlords who lie about their repairs. A 1995 study by city Comptroller Alan Hevesi found that one-third of owners file fraudulent self-inspections. As of yet, no council member has introduced legislation to deal with that issue.