City should pay NYCHA tenants over loss of heat during winter, Bronx BP demands

NYCHA admitted more than 323,000 of its residents lacked heat or hot water this winter, according to a lawsuit.
NYCHA admitted more than 323,000 of its residents lacked heat or hot water this winter, according to a lawsuit. Photo Credit: Mark Mittel

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to stand behind New York City Housing Authority tenants who were left in the cold this past winter.

A lawsuit filed earlier in April on behalf of NYCHA tenants calls on the housing authority to provide rent abatements and conduct boiler repairs immediately for those who went without heat and hot water during the 2017-2018 winter season, particularly residents who suffered through bone-chilling temperatures during the so-called “bomb cyclone” between Dec. 27, 2017, and Jan. 16.

The class-action lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York Supreme Court, alleges NYCHA knowingly broke the law when it failed to provide the necessary utilities to its residents.

The city’s housing maintenance code specifies that heat must be provided by landlords between Oct. 1 and May 31 when the temperature drops below 55 degrees.

NYCHA officials had admitted, according to the lawsuit, that more than 323,000 residents lacked heat or hot water between Oct. 1, 2017, and Jan. 22.

Despite that NYCHA “clearly failed” to adhere to the law, the de Blasio administration continues to defend itself against the suit, Diaz said in a letter to the mayor, dated April 26 and made public on Monday.

“If these tenants had a private landlord, the city would not be questioning their rights to an immediate fix of the problem and financial compensation, nor should they,” Diaz said in the letter. “However, your administration has decided, to date, that rather than provide tenants with their just compensation as required by law, it will waste its resources fighting this lawsuit in court.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the letter, but his administration has taken steps in recent months to improve heating issues at NYCHA developments, including $200 million in funding for boiler replacements and a $13 million investment in improving the city’s response to heating emergencies.

Diaz and housing advocates, however, argue the city’s remediation is not enough.

“When housing is not habitable, there should be consequences,” Diaz said in the letter. “It is a matter of principle, ethics, and law — these tenants deserve compensation that accounts for a lack of basic services.”

The letter to de Blasio comes just days after Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), had suggested raising rent for millions of public housing tenants across the country.

Diaz said Carson’s recent proposal should galvanize the mayor into ensuring the city does not “shirk its financial responsibilities” to NYCHA tenants.

With Ivan Pereira