Each year, Public Advocate Letitia James releases a renewed list of 100 landlords with as many as 2,000 housing violations.
Likewise, each year, news outlets tell tenants to check if their landlord is on the list, and for thousands of New Yorkers whose landlord makes the list year in and year out, the list hardly changes.
In an interview on Oct. 24 about the effectiveness of the 11 Worst Landlord Watchlist, Councilman Andrew Cohen recalled trying to get one of the “worst landlords” of 2015, Ved Parkash, to make repairs.
“I think the point of the list actually is a shaming mechanism to try to really embarrass these people into doing the right thing,” Mr. Cohen said. “I think it is an effective tool.”
Mr. Cohen said Mr. Parkash had made several updates and repairs – but he still ranked fourth on this year’s list, with 992 Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) violations in just four buildings.
Part of what is keeping some landlords from making the appropriate repairs on their buildings, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said, is a law allowing landlords to raise rents on vacated apartments by up to 20 percent.
“Some landlords think that their best bet financially is to not provide services because the more turnover they can get, the more they can jack up the rent,” he said. “There are some landlords that are just bad in the sense that they just don’t pay attention and do what they are supposed to do, but there are some landlords—and I am not saying anyone in particular—but there are some landlords who go out of their way to drive tenants out so they can have higher rents.”
These landlords are taking advantage of the so-called vacancy bonus, Mr. Dinowitz said, and refusing to make fixes because of the financial incentive that is inherent to not fixing tenants’ problems.
“At some point, the market won’t allow for it... if a landlord wants to charge $4,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in Kingsbridge, they’re not going to get it,” he said. “The point is they are getting ridiculous rents due to their own bad behavior.”
There also isn’t much that can be done to force bad landlords into submission.
According to HPD’s website, landlords are subject to fees for each violation they incur, much like a traffic violation. These can range from as low as $10, for a non-hazardous violation, to a maximum $1,000 for more than one heat or hot water violation within two years of each other.
There are three kinds of violation—not including heat and hot water violations—a landlord can receive. Class A violations are considered non-hazardous, but Class B and C violations are classified as “hazardous,” and “immediately hazardous,” respectively.
Although these fees can add up rather quickly, it does not necessarily mean landlords will make repairs right away. Residents at 2709 Heath Ave., told The Press last week that after a judge ordered landlord Rich Laubsch, the 92nd worst landlord on the list, to make repairs on violations in 2014, many of them are still not fixed.
“Under the current law, the housing court doesn’t have the authority, as far as I know, to order it being done within a certain period of time,” Mr. Dinowitz said. “Let me give you an example of something that happened in my district some years ago, we had building where the landlord was ordered by the housing court to make some repair…In any case, the landlord didn’t do what he needed to do, there was a fire as a result of him not making the repairs and a child died.”
In some extreme cases, HPD can call up the Alternative Enforcement Program, which is dispatched on New Year’s Eve of each year to “severely distressed buildings.”
According to HPD’s website, the Alternative Enforcement Program essentially takes over the building’s management, collects rent and makes repairs for up to four months before charging landlords $1,000 per unit per month until the building is discharged form the program.
But there is no clear number of Class B and C violations needed to trigger the intervention of the Alternative Enforcement Program, and buildings go right back to the same landlords, once discharged.
“Perhaps they need to step in more often,” Mr. Dinowitz said. “It’s just that the city is probably not in a position to do that with every building that has so many violations, but that’s probably what needs to be done.”
Mr. Dinowitz added that bad landlords should face some sort of penalty for failing to provide tenants with the services they need.
“I introduced legislation that would mandate that if the housing court orders that there be a repair made, the landlord has to do it within a certain period of time,” he said. “The income has to be taken away from the landlord and given to a company who is going to make the repairs, do what has to be to be done by taking the money, but there is a process that you have to go through.”