Glitches at NYC housing agency leaves tenants in the cold, audit claims

Carl Campanile and Bernadette Hogan

New York Post

Sep 24, 2020

Thousands of New York City tenants were potentially “left in the cold” because of a glitch with the city’s tracking system that “wrongly” ignored new heat and hot water complaints, a stinging state audit released Thursday claims.

The Department of Housing Preservation & Development code requires landlords to provide heat from Oct. 1 to May 31, and hot water 24 hours a day.

Having no heat or hot water is a hazard that is supposed to be addressed within 24 hours, said state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

The problem is that HPD was lumping new or additional heat and hot water complaints from the same apartment complexes with the earlier complaints already on file, auditors said.

As a result of this practice, HPD considered only about 236,000 of the 447,000 complaints to be new or unique from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2019 — often mistakenly treating them as duplicates or not new complaints that warranted investigation and repairs, the comptroller’s audit said.

“It is unacceptable that families could be left in the cold because of a database flaw that went unnoticed for years,” DiNapoli said.

“By failing to respond to their complaints, HPD not only put New Yorkers at risk, but it failed to hold building owners accountable. HPD needs to address the problems we found and ensure New Yorkers are being helped this fall and winter when they complain that they have no heat or hot water.”

HPD largely inspects privately run apartment complexes, not those under the purview of the New York City Housing Authority, which is also plagued by heat complaints and a host of other problems, including toxic-lead paint.

More specifically, auditors found 5,019 complaints from 500 buildings were registered as duplicates of original complaints — even though they were received anywhere from 10 days to years after the first complaint was filed.

HPD inspected just 440 of the additional 5,019 complaints and treated the rest of them as redundant, the audit said.

HPD said the problem was the result of a “glitch” in its system, which DiNapoli’s audit determined goes as far back as 2014.

For example, HPD did not conduct any heat or hot water inspections at a 38-unit Brooklyn building despite 175 complaints over nearly two years, the audit found.

All the complaints were mistakenly linked to previously filed complaints, auditors said.

The audit also found HPD was often slow to inspect buildings after receiving complaints. The agency took three days or more to follow up on half the complaints it received in the 2018 fiscal year, though response times improved to 2.1 days in FY 2019.