Building Owner Obligations as Heating Season Begins

During the previous “heat season,” the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) attempted to make approximately 128,300 heat-related inspections, performed emergency repairs valued at more than $4.2 million, and initiated over 3,800 housing court actions based on heat violations.

The current heat season began on Oct. 1 and continues through May 31, 2016. During heat season, residential building owners with tenants are required by law to maintain an indoor temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between 6 a.m.. and 10 p.m. when the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees. Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., building owners must maintain an indoor temperature of 55 degrees when the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees. It is legally required that hot water is maintained at 120 degrees year-round.

HPD fields a team of inspectors who work in shifts, and are situated in offices in all five boroughs to provide coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For situations that merit the deployment of additional crews, such as prolonged periods of below-freezing temperatures, the agency will deploy additional inspectors and maintenance staff to any given shift, sometimes doubling the normal number of inspectors on duty to help respond to complaints and emergencies.

It’s an owner’s responsibility to comply with the violation and restore heat and hot water service. There are three potential penalties to a property that fails to comply:

Emergency repair: In cases where private owners fail to restore heat and hot water, or when HPD is unable to reach owners, HPD’s Emergency Repair Program (ERP) may use private contractors to make the necessary repairs to restore essential services. The cost of the emergency repairs, plus administrative fees, is billed to the owner and becomes a tax lien on the property if not paid. The city’s ERP is by far the most extensive in the nation, spending more than $5.6 million to ensure heat and hot water during fiscal year 2015, which includes $4.2 million spent within the 2014-2015 heat season.

Civil penalties: HPD’s Housing Litigation Division (HLD) also initiates legal action against properties that were issued heat violations. Property owners are subject to civil penalties for heat and hot water violations that range from $250 to a maximum of $500 per day for first violations. Subsequent violations at the same location, within the same calendar year, are subject to penalties ranging from $500 to $1,000 per day. Owners who incur multiple heat violations are subject to litigation seeking maximum civil penalties on heat and other code deficiencies. HPD’s HLD filed more than 3,800 cases in the 2014-2015 heat season and has already recouped more than $1,855,293 in civil penalties related to those cases. Property owners who address heat and hot water conditions immediately and haven’t been issued prior violations during the same or previous heat season are offered a simplified process for satisfying the civil penalty without going to Housing Court. If the violation is the first that has been issued on the property since the beginning of the previous heat season or the last calendar year, and the violation is corrected within 24 hours of the posting of the Notice of Violation, the property owner may satisfy the civil penalty by properly completing a Notice of Correction by the correction date listed on the violation and submitting a payment of $250. HPD collected $102,000 in these settlement fees during the last heat season.

Inspection fees: HPD imposes a fee of $200 per inspection if it has to perform three or more inspections at the same location, within the same heat season for heat violations or calendar year for hot water violations. Failure to pay will result in the city filing a tax lien against the property. During the 2014-2015 heat season, HPD billed for $163,800 in inspection fees.