City Council Passes Bill to Reject Quick Fixes by Owners
A bill that gets tougher on owners who make cosmetic repairs to buildings but fail to address underlying structural problems was recently passed by the city council. The bill passed unanimously and now goes to the mayor’s desk for his signature. If it becomes law, there will be a rulemaking process to define the policy.
The bill grants inspectors for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) the authority to issue orders to building owners requiring them to correct any underlying conditions that are causing repeat violations of any city or state housing code. Currently, the HPD is allowed to issue violations for “observed damage,” but not unseen root causes of that damage.
According to Vito Mustaciuolo, the department’s deputy commissioner of enforcement and neighborhood services, the most common underlying issue is that owners plaster over water leaks but don’t seek out the source of the water, which over time can cause mold or structural problems. The number of violations the department issued for leak and mold issues rose to nearly 26,000 in 2012, up from just under 22,000 in 2011. And more than one-quarter of those buildings had violations in multiple apartments.
HPD will establish the criteria that will bring about an order to fix an underlying condition. During Mustaciuolo’s testimony, he stated that this process could take up to six months. After the criteria are determined, he estimated that during the first year of the legislation, 100 buildings with a history of multiple violations specifically related to water leakage and mold will be inspected by HPD to check for underlying conditions.
Mustaciuolo further emphasized that these buildings won’t be ones that are under the authority of the Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP), which already repairs underlying conditions. The AEP, established in 2007, identifies the city’s 200 most distressed buildings each year and, throughout the year, works with their owners to address structural problems. The HPD will use the AEP work force, however, in inspecting the buildings identified by this new legislation as possibly having underlying conditions that need correction.
The bill gives an owner four months (with a possible two-month extension) to fix the underlying condition and submit documentation to HPD from a licensed plumber, registered architect, or professional engineer verifying that they’ve done so. HPD will then reevaluate the site and, if satisfied, rescind the violation. The bill also allows the city’s housing inspectors to make the repairs themselves, if necessary, and let them recoup the cost from the owner.