tenant organizing

Is Your Building On the 100 Worst Landlords List?

Top 10 Worst Landlords in NYC 2017 (officeofthepublicadvocate)

Top 10 Worst Landlords in NYC 2017 (officeofthepublicadvocate)

Last week, Letitia James, the recently re-elected Public Advocate for NYC, released her office's annual Worst 100 Landlords in NYC List.  This always get a little buzz in the NYC real estate world, but generally doesn't get on the radar of too many people (especially now that Gothamist and DNAinfo were murdered.)

That's a shame because the list is an opportunity for all renters and landlords to assess their buildings and to see what is working and what isn't.  Some of the landlords on this list are notorious in the housing world.  Others come and go, but more on that later. Either way, understanding how the list works will help landlords (and renters) make sure their building stays far away from it. Here are some key points about the list that every New Yorker should know.

 

1. Tenant complaints are the only way the city can issue violations

This might seem obvious, but unless a tenant makes a complaint to the city - which is as simple as calling 311 in many cases - the Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) department won't initiate an inspection. If HPD inspect's a complaint and confirms it, they issue a violation. Those data points are the basis for the scoring on the Worst Landlords List.

For tenants, this means if you see a serious problem in your building and your landlord isn't fixing it, you better call the city.  There are lots of bad landlords that don't make it on this list because tenants don't speak up.

For landlords, this means you can avoid being on this list by being responsive to your tenants - before they have to call 311.  They are your first line of defense against problems in your building.  Work with them. 

As you'd expect, the most insecure tenants need the most help with speaking up.  There are many organizations like Met Council, CASA Bronx, Legal Aid Society, and Tenants & Neighbors (among many others) that can help.

 

2. As a landlord, you've got to be pretty bad to get on this list

A building's score is based on a very straight forward formula: 

1. Violations are given weighted scores:

  • B Class "Hazadrous" = 1. (ex: Inadequate lighting in public spaces, lack of fire detectors, unlawful barriers to fire escapes) 30 days to fix, $25-$100 fine, plus $10/day
  • C Class "Immediate Hazadrous" = 1.5 (ex. rodents, inadequate heat/water, broken or defective plumbing fixtures, peeling lead paint) 24 hours to fix, $50-$1000 fine 

2. Violations are counted up over a 12 month period, divided by 12, then again divided by the number of units in the building.  So if the same violation is unresolved over 12 months, that counts as 12 violations. 

3. The score then has to meet a baseline threshold:

  • Buildings under 35 units need a score greater than 3
  • Buildings over 35 units need a score greater than 2

The simple metrics listed here shows that this list isn't designed to be "anti-landlord." You have to have a lot of violations over a long period of time to get on this list.  And these aren't wishy-washy violations.  Class B and Class C violations are things that can put people in danger.  You deserve to be on this list if you're on it.  

If you're still unclear about how the list works as a landlord, check out more info on methodology and also learn more about HPD and what you need to do to stay off the list.

 

3. Not much happens to landlords on this list and that's the bigger problem

Sure, it's embarrassing to be on the 100 Worst Landlords list. It certainly means that you have incurred a fair amount of expensive fines. And it likely means you've spent some time or will spend some time in housing court. However, there isn't much this list can do to you if you're on it.

I don't want to sound like I'm against this list. I support it.  There are very few widely-available resources for tenants to find out about landlords.  The worst actors in the market should be held accountable. This list is a fair attempt to do so.

But looking at last year's list, the names at the top are very familiar.  That's true every year.  The sad reality is, there are very few mechanisms to punish these bad actors in today's market.  Many bake in fines and court appearances and obviously don't care about the optics of being on this list. They bought their buildings and are waiting out tenants as property values continue to rapidly increase.  It's part of the model.

Our elected officials can genuinely oppose this and put out lists to shine a light on it, but real estate - and the uniquely speculative nature of it in NYC - is too powerful a force to allow this list to have teeth.  Attaching further fines, criminal prosecution, or even property forfeitures would be impossible politically, even if they would change the stakes practically. I suspect the rather benign metrics for the current list were an acknowledgement of this reality.

It's easy to pick on the worst, most flagrant actors in the NYC real estate market. They don't care. But it is much harder to acknowledge the deeper challenges presented by relying on real estate to drive so much of the city's economic and political engine.  It's also harder to tap the vastly under-organized power of tenants. Uniting them would change this dynamic overnight.  Many tenants across all pockets of the city will continue to struggle as long as that isn't the case.

 

homeBody is the free communication tool for landlords, tenants, and neighbors.

We believe housing is a right and so should you. 

5 Biggest Beefs Tenants Have in NYC (1 is surprising and kind of sweet)

 
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If you're a tenant in NYC, chances are you've had beef with somebody in your building.  At homeBody, we come across a lot of challenging situations that people go through living together. We thought we'd share the top 5 that come up a lot and pass along some general suggestions about how to address them. (There's a common theme that you will surly pick up on.)

1. Absent landlord

"I lived in this place in Astoria where the landlord lived upstairs, I saw him in the hallway everyday, he said hi and was friendly, but he never got back to me when I had a problem. It was like he didn't know I lived there when I needed the toilet fixed." - Erik, N. 

This is number 1 for a reason. In a perfect world, your landlord would be as responsive as a 5-star resort. The truth is, some just want to do the minimum to keep their investment income coming in. Some property management companies are awesome, some landlords are awesome, but a lot are absent, surly, or slow moving. 

Suggestion: The more you work with your neighbors to communicate as a group, the more likely you'll get a better response from your landlord. Good old-fashioned organizing is the best way to change the status quo in your building if you're unhappy with it.

2. Heat and hot water

"My wife and I are basically boiling in our apartment cuz we're on the first floor. The neighbor at the top of the building is this old guy who always complains that it's too cold." - Zach G.

We were somewhat surprised that this was as high in our poll, but the above quote sheds some light as to why.  Providing heat and hot water is a major legal requirement for landlords, and we really don't see too many people complain that either is missing entirely. But we do see people complain that either there isn't enough or there's too much.

Suggestion: If you're not getting heat or hot water call your landlord or call 311. That's unacceptable. But if you're getting 'too much', finding out if your neighbors are having the same problem is the surest way to get action taken by your landlord. Chances are, you're not alone, so band together.

3. Neighbors are noisy

"I lived below these guys who were bartenders, young guys. They came home at crazy hours, had people over at crazy times. We kept telling them to get carpeting and take their shoes off, but it didn't stop until they moved." - Rachel F.

This is the classic case of neighbor-on-neighbor beef.  The truth is there aren't too many simple answers here because a lot of these things are subjective. Landlords don't have the time or interest (or responsibility) to intervene against/between people and it seems particularly hard to enforce leases for small things like carpeting. Not too mention a lot of NYC buildings (old or new) were simply not built with the tenant's peace-of-mind in mind.

Suggestion: Building a relationship with your neighbors ahead of the 3AM broom pounding is really the only way to avoid many of these conflicts. It won't always prevent them, but it can create a common dialogue that establishes trust and respect. That makes legitimate complaints easier to address and to resolve when they come up.

4. Packages clutter the hallway or get lost

"I've gone door to door asking neighbors if they have seen my package. We've all had meetings asking the property management company to install cameras so things don't disappear but nothing happens. I have to get things delivered to the office." - Steph R.K.

With Amazon and Jet fundamentally changing shopping, this problem is getting worse each year. Packages pile up and it's easy for things to get lost (or stolen in extreme cases.)

It's difficult to reverse engineer a more lasting solution, particularly in older buildings with narrow hallways and no lobbies. Landlords don't want to be responsible for packages and don't want to allow easy access for delivery guys for understandable security reasons.

Suggestion: Establishing a simple line of communication between neighbors could go a long way of fostering a more communal approach to package delivery. Finding out if a neighbor is home at a certain time to buzz in a package or to sign for something can save a lot of time and lost stuff, especially if there's an easy way to track the conversation.

5. Not knowing neighbors

So this is the one that was sweet and actuallynot that surprising to me (sorry for the clickbait title). As much as NYC gets the rep for being a keep-to-yourself town, the reality is that people want to know who they live with. 

We found out that there is a genuine interest, especially among tenants who have been in their apartments for a few years to form meaningful relationships with their neighbors. The problem is how weird it is to try to introduce yourself when you've missed that initial window of moving in.

This isn't a homeBody anecdote, but a personal one. Living in Stuytown during Superstorm Sandy, we lost power for 9 days. There are a lot of older residents in the complex and it was pretty cold that week.  The Tenants Association and Councilmen Dan Garodnick organized a door-to-door neighbor-to-neighbor reach out to make sure we got to all 11,400 apartments. It was one of the most inspiring things that I've ever been a part of, honestly. It also brought my closer to a lot of neighbors that I'm still in touch with.

Suggestion: You don't need (or want) something like Sandy to bring you and your neighbors together, but you should make the effort all the same. You're already sharing a physical place, making that extra connection means turning a place into a home.  All of the problems our members run into really are easier to solve when you know the people who you live with a little better.

 

homeBody is the free communication app for landlords, tenants, and neighbors.

Find out how we can improve the quality of life in your building