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No heat can put owner in hot water.

No heat can put owner in hot water

Cooler days are here and property owners must supply heat to their tenants from now through May 31 or risk fines and possible jail sentences.

The law requires that an indoor temperature of at least 68 degrees is to be maintained between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. when the outdoor temperature is below 55 degrees. At night, the indoor temperature must be at least 55 degrees when it is 40 degrees or less outside.

Nearly 10,500 violations were given out last season for heat and hot water complaints, while 2,338 court actions were begun. Six of eleven property owners arrested for failure to provide heat and other code violations were given jail sentences.

The Emergency Repair Division spent $11 million including $2.7 million on providing fuel or repairs. Over 2,300 fuel deliveries were made and while 475 boiler/burners were repaired or replaced.

Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), said the number of cases in which HPD has sent contractors to do boiler repairs has actually declined in recent years because they have made a more conscientious effort to contact the owner.

"We are doing that," said Valerie Jo Bradley, an HPD spokesperson who added that there were 42 percent fewer work orders issued, which was attributed to a concerted effort to contact owners.

One of the problems is that HPD cannot reach people who are registered owners or agents. "The best advice for owners anticipating problems with HPD and heat is to make sure their 24-hour contact names and phone numbers on the Multiple Dwelling Registration are correct," Margulies said. One mistake owners make, he said, is to put down an office number, which does not have anyone answering for 16-hours a day.

Bradley said if there is an emergency that occurs after business hours, they will call the number on the card. "If we can't contact the landlord and it its really cold, if its lack of oil we will send an oil delivery," she said. Eventually a repair crew may be sent, particularly if HPD cannot reach anyone. "People put the wrong number down, period," she said. The forms can be amended in the borough code enforcement office.

When HPD does notify you, Margulies advised, immediately send a certified letter back to HPD that you are dealing with the problem. "If you don't send it and the contractor comes out, you will be billed even if it was fixed," he said. "If you expect to beat the bill you have to have a certified receipt."

The problem with the heating issue is the time constraints, Margulies explained. "Violations must be corrected within 48 hours and you need a contractor there to restore heat." Within the time limitations, Margulies said, HPD is doing a better job.

"Owners should make sure that they are reachable and, when reached, (they should) respond by telephone and by certified mail and of course, do the work," Margulies said. "If they have a problem with finances, often the best thing they can do is to go immediately back to HPD to see what programs they have available to provide emergency fuel delivery or assistance with a repair on favorable terms rather than risk an emergency repair and unfavorable rates."

Bradley suggested going to the neighborhood preservation office to seek help before the boiler gives out completely. Those offices are closed on the weekend, she noted, so if the boiler gives out on a Friday night, it might be too late. "Usually, when someone is having a problem, they know before that point. They may be trying to maximize the dollars and not deal with it, but we're talking about people's lives. A senior citizen or a baby cannot afford a drastic drop in temperature."

Fires which kill people, damage apartments and gut entire buildings are also caused when freezing residents try to heat with inappropriate methods. The tenants may open the door of the gas oven and turn all the burners on or use flimsy electrical heaters with the wrong extension cords and leave flammable material too close. These kinds of fires also contribute to the homeless problem in the city.

"One likes to think that the fellows who go to jail are bad guys," Margulies said. "I know in a couple of cases that wasn't so, they were trying to restore services." Margulies said in the cases, the boiler may have needed to be replaced and the owner could not get the financing. "It's better to give the owner an emergency grant than to put him in jail," he said.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 16, 1991
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