Every New York City resident has heard the horror stories about nightmare landlords who refuse to lift a finger to fix dangerous conditions in the apartment buildings they own. Whether it’s vermin infestations by rats and roaches, leaky ceilings and recalcitrant plumbing, living in these conditions places the residents in danger.
While the Department of Housing Preservation and Development is tasked with overseeing New York City’s 2.2 million rental apartments and assuring that they are habitable, a review of their records by The New York Times was illuminating. It’s apparent that the agency failed to get tough on property owners who deprive residents of even the most basic of services. Few of the worst offenders ever face the maximum penalties for their lapses.
Many landlords offer token lip service to mandates to fix their properties and layer fresh paint over mold or make other cosmetic repairs when the underlying structures were rotten or otherwise not working as intended.
Their intentions can be quite nefarious. Often, they try to drive out rent-controlled tenants who pay minimal amounts and have lived there for decades. Then, once the tenant can no longer tolerate the uninhabitable conditions and moves, landlords rush in and make major renovations to their properties so they can command double or even triple rent amounts.
When the Times analyzed city housing data, they reviewed hundreds of cases that landed in housing court and interviewed tenants and those who advocate for them. Over two-thirds of those cases were settled for less than 15 percent of the available penalties — usually about 10 percent, with median settlements of $4,000.
Even when property owners lie and claim to make repairs, their repercussions are minimal. In one egregious case, a landlord filed 40 certifications within two years falsely claiming the housing violations were fixed. The landlord paid fines that were less than $3,000, the Times reported.
If you are living in such untenable conditions and suffer injuries or illnesses as a result, you may be able to recoup some of your losses by filing a premises liability lawsuit.