Joined by Tenants and Legal Aid Lawyers, Borough President Adams Announces Lawsuit to Monitor Heating-Related Harassment in Brooklyn Apartment Buildings
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 01, 2016

Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams joined impacted tenants and lawyers from The Legal Aid Society in announcing a lawsuit based on data from an expanding technology partnership to monitor heating-related harassment in Brooklyn apartment buildings.

Standing outside 178 Rockaway Parkway in Brownsville, a property that has had numerous heat complaints through 311, they discussed how residents across the borough are utilizing sensors from Heat Seek NYC, the winner of the NYC BigApps 2014 contest, to remotely track the temperature in their homes during the winter months. Their technology, using sensor hardware and web applications, helps ensure that heat levels in apartments fall within the legal range, while providing data-based evidence to verify heating code abuse claims in housing court. Borough President Adams first forged connections back in 2014 between this locally-based non-profit and a number of properties managed by good-acting landlords such as Fifth Avenue Committee, who agreed to use the technology on a proactive monitoring basis. Now, as part of his larger focus on combating tenant harassment, he detailed $5,000 in new funding his office has allocated to build additional monitoring hardware at five buildings across the borough, including 178 Rockaway Parkway.

“My message to landlords across Brooklyn is that we’re watching; don’t harm your tenants’ quality of life all because of greed,” said Borough President Adams. “Combating tenant harassment has been a hallmark of my administration, and we are tackling this challenge through traditional and groundbreaking approaches alike. We are using cool technology to warm the homes of Brooklynites, while putting bad-acting landlords on the hot seat for their harassing behavior. I am proud to work with the innovative team at Heat Seek NYC, our incredible legal advocates, as well as courageous tenants throughout the borough that are standing up for their housing rights.”

Underscoring the imperative for addressing this issue, Borough President Adams presented 311 data that highlighted problem neighborhoods for residential heating complaints citywide, which correspond heavily with areas of economic hardship and gentrification. Between October 2015 and May 2016, the Brooklyn ZIP code with the highest number of complaints was 11226, covering Ditmas Park and Flatbush; other ZIP codes that experienced a high number of heating issues, per the data, included 11207, 11208, 11210, 11212, 11213, 11216, 11221, 11225, 11233, and 11238.

“Heat Seek is grateful for the support of Borough President Adams, and is excited to partner with his office and community advocates throughout the borough to target landlords who abuse their tenants by withholding heat,” said Noelle Francois, executive director of Heat Seek NYC. “Our innovative technology is a simple, low-cost way to hold bad landlords accountable and provide relief for many of our neighbors this winter, especially in neighborhoods like Brownsville. With Borough President Adams’ support, we’re eager to build on this work and get more sensors where they’re needed most in our city.”

The buildings selected for the expansion of this partnership were chosen through a combination of variables, including the number of 311 complaints, community input to identify bad actors, and looking at the next 200 landlords who are not currently enrolled in the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP). Borough President Adams explained that he is only identifying 178 Rockaway Parkway as a recipient in order to put all landlords in the borough “on notice.” According to Heat Seek NYC, 178 Rockaway Parkway had at least seven heating complaints in the last 96 hours, as well as more than 100 heating complaints during the 2014-15 winter. The sensors that have been deployed in the building for several weeks have reflected a variety of temperature readings below the legal minimum.

“On November 29, 2016, The Legal Aid Society’s Tenant Rights Coalition filed a lawsuit against the owner of 178 Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn due to its failure to provide adequate heat during this winter season,” said Sunny Noh, supervising attorney for the Tenant Rights Coalition of the Legal Aid Society. “The lack of heat is a serious problem for low-income tenants in New York City. The tenants of this building have complained of inadequate heat for years to no avail. It is a common tactic for some landlords to routinely turn up the heat when HPD is scheduled to inspect their buildings, sometimes making it difficult for HPD to place violations for inadequate heat during the winter months. With the assistance of Heat Seek NYC, tenants and tenant advocates are able to monitor temperatures in apartments throughout the heating season and use this information to hold this landlord accountable.”

Borough President Adams also outlined legislative action he will be working on with the City Council, in particular Council Member Ritchie Torres, that would allow for the installation of heat sensors in apartment buildings, as well as for their utilization as a means to combat heating-related abuse by bad-acting landlords. Additionally, Borough President Adams announced a training partnership between New York City Housing Court and Heat Seek NYC that will train housing court judges on how to interpret data collected by heat monitors.

“Technology such as heat sensors can help policymakers better understand how tenants are being impacted by heat violations in their own homes, and help inform new legislation,” said Council Member Torres. “I look forward to partnering with Borough President Adams to ensure tenants are protected and violations are tackled properly.”

Last year, Borough President Adams held a series of tenant harassment hearings in Downtown Brooklyn, East Flatbush, and Williamsburg. Nearly 150 unique testimonies were gathered, and his office was able to resolve roughly 50 percent of the cases by connecting them to needed services and legal representation. A number of the individuals who testified as witnesses about the housing problems they faced met with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (Brooklyn A) and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who conducted comprehensive intakes with each tenant. These tenants were counseled on a wide variety of issues related to discrimination, harassment, and mistreatment, including illegal rent increases, faulty or lack of repairs, and deprivation of services. Additionally, Brooklyn A has undertaken the representation of groups of tenants who testified, particularly those experiencing building-wide problems of harassment and discrimination. Other cases are under careful review for potential to bring comprehensive housing litigation.




Politico
Proposal would codify use of remote heat sensors in city apartments
By Miranda Neubauer
December 5, 2016

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams plans to work with Councilman Ritchie Torres on legislation that would codify into the city's housing regulations the use of remote heat sensors.

The legislation, according to Adams and Torres, would also allow the city to proactively install sensors in buildings whose landlords have shown a pattern of heat-related abuse or harassment.

The proposal grew out of Adams' work with the technology start-up Heat Seek, a previous winner of the city's Big Apps Technology competition. Heat Seek developed temperature sensors that can be installed in apartments and transmit heating data. That information can then be integrate with 311 complaint information.

Adams said the sensors are installed with tamper-proof tape so they cannot be moved or manipulated. Heat Seek also takes a photo indicating where the sensor was placed.

Heat Seek says it has installed sensors in 57 buildings in four boroughs and has been sharing the data with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. So far this year, the sensors have been used by 12 tenants to bring legal action against landlords. In eight of those cases, the tenants received positive settlements, including rent abatements and legally binding pledges from landlords to provide heat, according to Heat Seek.

Adams first announced a partnership with Heat Seek, housing developers and advocates in October 2014 to place sensors in at least 10 apartment buildings in Brooklyn. He recently announced $5,000 in new funding to provide sensors in five more buildings in the borough.

"We are using cool technology to warm the homes of Brooklynites, while putting bad-acting landlords on the hot seat for their harassing behavior. I am proud to work with the innovative team at Heat Seek NYC, our incredible legal advocates, as well as courageous tenants throughout the borough that are standing up for their housing rights," Adams said in a statement.

Torres, in a statement, said the heat sensors "can help policymakers better understand how tenants are being impacted by heat violations in their own homes, and help inform new legislation. I look forward to partnering with Borough President Adams to ensure tenants are protected and violations are tackled properly.”

Sunny Noh, supervising attorney for the Tenant Rights Coalition, said the sensors will help protect tenants.

"It is a common tactic for some landlords to routinely turn up the heat when HPD [Department of Housing Preservation and Development] is scheduled to inspect their buildings, sometimes making it difficult for HPD to place violations for inadequate heat during the winter months," Noh said in a statement. "With the assistance of Heat Seek NYC, tenants and tenant advocates are able to monitor temperatures in apartments throughout the heating season and use this information to hold landlords accountable."

A spokesperson for HPD said the agency would not comment on the legislation before it has been officially introduced.

Heat Seek got a direct shout-out as a Big Apps finalist from Mayor Bill de Blasio when he attended a NY Tech Meetup event in September 2014 to announce the appointment of first chief technology officer Minerva Tantoco. It won one of the top prizes later that month. The competition had taken place annually since 2009, but it did not take place this year.

"The next Big Apps competition will bring a considerable increase to the programming and support that is offered to entrepreneurs, and will launch in Q1 of 2017," Ryan Birchmeier, a spokesman for the New York City Economic Development Corporations, which organizes the competition, said in a statement.