Audit of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development's Enforcement of the Housing Maintenance Code

The City of New York
Office of the Comptroller
Bureau of Audit


The goal of HPD's Housing Code enforcement efforts should be the correction of violations, by owners for the most part. Under its stated goal, "To enforce compliance with housing quality standards," HPD monitors its performance by measuring activities, such as calls received, inspections performed, violations issued, etc., and strives to perform more inspections per inspection team per year. But these numbers are useless pieces of information and are irrelevant if it is not known whether the activities lead to the correction of violations. More perversely, this type of measurement system can actually lead to the design of processes and procedures that are wasteful, inefficient, and ineffective. Until HPD begins to monitor and report the outcome of these activities in terms of the number and percentage of violations corrected, the effectiveness of the program will be ignored. Inherent problems with the program will, therefore, not be addressed and corrected.

Overall, we found that 43 percent of a statistically representative sample of violations deemed by HPD inspectors to be "immediately hazardous" were uncorrected within one year, on average, after the violations had been identified by HPD inspectors. Based on the sample results, we estimate that 13,889 immediately hazardous violations identified by HPD inspectors during FY 1994 still existed in February 1995.

Performing inspections without following-up on violations issued undermines the effectiveness of Housing Code enforcement efforts. Such a practice--which according to the administrators of housing code enforcement programs in other cities, is unique to NYC---fosters the perception among both tenants and owners that City government is ineffectual in fulfilling its responsibilities, and that the Housing Code can be ignored with impunity. Moreover, it fosters apathy and frustration among tenants who continue to live in hazardous conditions even after the City has inspected and identified conditions violating City and State laws on minimum housing standards. HPD may report that it "responds" to complaints, but its actions do not ensure that what should be the program's real goal is achieved and that violations are corrected.

When HPD issues an NOV to a building owner, it should also advise tenants of their right to bring owners to court if the owner fails to correct the violation. HPD does not have the resources to arrange for an emergency repair of every violation that is dangerous to the health and safety of tenants. In addition, HPD does not have the resources to initiate litigation against every owner for every uncorrected maintenance and repair violation. However, if owners believe that they will not be penalized for not correcting violations, they are more likely to ignore the NOVs they receive from HPD.

Therefore, it is imperative that HPD continue to seek passage of legislation that would give it the authority to adjudicate NOVs without having to go to housing court to obtain judgments. HPD does not have the resources to always penalize owners when the Housing Maintenance Code is ignored. Last year HPD's attorneys initiated nearly 700 maintenance and repair cases, and 2,000 heat cases. Due to the huge number of outstanding violations, HPD does not have the legal staff to initiate cases to obtain judgments against all building owners who have not corrected violations on their buildings. For example, our review of HPD's database of violations found that HPD has approximately 66,000 lead paint violations listed on its database as of July 1994.

Furthermore, given that the budget for HPD's Housing Code enforcement efforts has been cut substantially over the past ten years, and given the decline in housing inspector productivity over the same period, it is more important now than ever that HPD know where its efforts are working, and where they are not working. HPD must reinspect all class C violations, and at least representative samples of class A and class B violations, to determine whether violations have been corrected. With information on whether violations are corrected, HPD can create performance indicators that would reveal the effectiveness of the program. This information could then be used to show legislators and other government officials the program's need for redesign, greater resources, or the need for legislation giving HPD greater authority to penalize building owners who disregard the Housing Maintenance Code.