NYC Public Advocate Reveals 2021 Worst Landlords List
The Office of the Public Advocate recently released its annual Worst Landlord Watchlist. The list is an information-sharing tool that enables tenants, public officials, advocates, and other concerned people to identify which residential property owners consistently flout city laws intended to protect the rights and safety of tenants.
The data for the list was compiled between December 2020 and November 2021, as the Public Advocate’s office sampled the average number of serious, unresolved housing code violations issued by HPD around the city each month. Managing agents were then ranked by their average number of open violations. The list can be found at www.landlordwatchlist.com.
The watchlist also includes properties owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Because NYCHA buildings aren’t issued violations by HPD, work orders are used to obtain the average number of open work orders for all NYCHA developments. The dollar amount of the “Physical Needs Assessment” per unit is also included. The Physical Needs Assessment is NYCHA’s estimate of the dollar amount needed to complete necessary repairs over the next 20 years.
In addition, the watchlist includes information from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), the Department of Finance (DOF), and the Department of Investigation (DOI). DOB data reports on the number of building code violations at a particular building. DOF data identifies buildings for which unpaid municipal debt was sold through the city’s annual tax lien sale in either 2020 or 2021 (at risk). This information is presented because inclusion in the tax lien sale is a recognized indicator of building distress. Data from DOI reports the number of evictions in New York City buildings, starting from December 2019 to the present. The DOI uses the numbers reported by New York City Marshals, who serve valid eviction notices.
Worst Public and Private Landlord
This year, NYCHA tops the list for the fourth year in a row. According to the office, there was a dramatic increase in the number of deteriorating or dangerous conditions this year. As of November 2021, there were 600,480 open work orders in NYCHA buildings across the city, an increase of over 121,600 from the previous year. The de Blasio administration will end with a significantly greater number of open orders than when it began in January of 2013, when NYCHA reported a backlog of over 420,000 work orders citywide.
According to the office, the top-ranking private owner has amassed an average 1,442 open violations across 17 buildings featured on the watchlist. And his buildings, which are primarily located in Harlem and Morningside Heights, have open violations including rat and roach infestation, mold, leaks, and lead paint, among other issues. He is listed as receiving J-51 tax exemptions for several of his buildings.
Trend During Pandemic
According to the data, the watchlist indicates that throughout the last year of the pandemic, many owners have further neglected building repairs, as evidenced by an overall rise in violations across landlords on the list, as well as an increase in violations reported to HPD across the city. At the same time, several owners previously at the top of the list have dropped to lower positions, in part after finally addressing violations in many of their buildings which led to their high rankings. However, while the situation for some tenants has improved, conditions for New York City tenants at large are still deteriorating, as there are more HPD violations recorded citywide this year than last year.
Increased HPD Resources, Possible Legislation
At a press conference to announce the list, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams emphasized the need for the incoming administration to allocate the resources needed to crack down on the city’s worst landlords, including NYCHA. This includes providing expanded funding to HPD for enforcement purposes. Williams called on the incoming City Council to move swiftly to pass the Worst Landlord Accountability Act, a package of bills aimed at correcting and preventing disingenuous tactics used by some of those owners in order to try to remove themselves from the list.
The first would prevent the city’s worst owners from falsely self-certifying repairs, and the second would mandate that HPD respond more rapidly to severe violations. Williams emphasized that the measures must be prioritized in the upcoming legislative agenda for the Council. Passage of these bills, he noted, should be accompanied by additional resources for HPD, which has been underfunded relative to the overwhelming need presented by bad actors.