Housing Agency Ignores Law Requiring Public Disclosure of NYCHA Code Violations
Since January, state law has required the city to detail public housing problems in its online portal. That’s not happening.
Most New York City tenants can easily check if their landlord is violating the housing code by searching the city housing department’s online portal. There, details about toxic mold, dangerous lead paint, vermin infestations and other scandalous conditions are spelled out for all to see.
Not so for the city’s 400,000 public housing residents, whose code violation histories remain invisible.
This week the New York Legal Assistance Group called out the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) on the omission, noting that NYCHA’s code violations records were supposed to go up on the HPD Online public search website eight months ago.
In a letter sent Tuesday to HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrion, NYLAG director Jonathan Fox pointed out that Albany changed the administrative code last year to require, for the first time, that NYCHA violations be listed on HPD’s website, just as with any other residential property in the city with more than three units.
The law officially went into effect Jan. 1. Yet a search for a NYCHA address at HPD Online still nets no information. Instead, visitors get this response: “This property is under the jurisdiction of the New York City Housing Authority.”
“Despite this clear obligation, and despite the fact that this provision has been in effect for nearly eight months, HPD is categorically failing to meet these obligations,” Fox wrote, asserting that the agency’s inaction “directly harms NYCHA residents and their advocates by impeding NYCHA tenants and their advocates’ efforts to identify trends and patterns in violations and organize collectively to address common systemic issues in NYCHA developments.”
In an interview with THE CITY Friday, Fox said, “The legislative intent was very clear and they basically just decided to just not do it. In a certain sense, it serves the interests of both agencies to basically not be able to comply with the law. HPD doesn’t have to keep track of this stuff and NYCHA doesn’t have to look bad.”
On Friday HPD spokesperson William Fowler said the agency is in the process of coming into compliance. But, he said, the software employed by NYCHA, which is technically not a city agency, and HPD, which is, use different systems to track complaints, inspections, repairs and violations.
“HPD and NYCHA are both committed to full transparency about building conditions,” Fowler said. “Significant amounts of NYCHA data is currently available on their website and we’re coordinating to get even more information online through HPD’s comprehensive HPD Online database as well.”
Asked about the status of incorporating the violation data into HPD’s system, NYCHA spokesman Michael Horgan responded, “We will continue to work with our agency partners on this matter.”
Failing the Law It Inspired
The lack of transparency about NYCHA’s living conditions has long been an issue for the nation’s biggest public housing authority.
In 2019, NYCHA was forced to enter an agreement with the federal government after prosecutors issued a report detailing years of management cover-ups and lies about the authority’s failure to address unhealthy and unsafe conditions, particularly mold infestation and the widespread presence of lead paint in apartments with children. The agreement resulted in the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA’s promised reforms.
HPD, meanwhile, remains hands-off about housing code enforcement in NYCHA buildings. Although HPD does cite the housing authority for violations, it does not enforce collection of fines. As a result, a NYCHA property can get hit with dozens of citations and pay no penalty at all.
Last year, state Assemblymembers Marcela Mitaynes (D-Brooklyn), Chantel Jackson (D-The Bronx), Khaleel Anderson (D-Queens), Zohran Mamdani (D-Queens) and Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), sought to bring those violations out into the light, sponsoring a bill requiring HPD to include NYCHA addresses on its complaints and violations site.
The law was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in July 2022 and went into effect Jan. 1, 2023.
Epstein, whose Lower East Side district includes several major NYCHA developments, questioned why, given NYCHA’s track record of hiding its problems, public housing residents cannot see the crucial information about their living conditions that private-sector tenants can easily access.
“It has been a problem for NYCHA tenants for decades to get repairs done and hold NYCHA accountable in court,” Epstein said. “They should be held to the same if not higher standard than every other landlord in New York City.”