Audit Report on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Handling of Housing Maintenance Complaints
June 30, 2015 | ME13-106A
The objective of this audit was to determine whether the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) effectively handles the housing maintenance complaints it receives.
HPD is responsible for ensuring that building owners comply with the New York City Housing Maintenance Code and the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law. Owners must ensure that their residential buildings are safe, clean, and well-maintained, both in the common areas and in the apartments. Tenants with maintenance problems are advised to first notify their building owners or property managers. If problems persist, tenants may file complaints with HPD through the City’s 311 system. Complaints are transmitted by 311 to HPDInfo, the agency’s electronic system for recording, processing, and tracking housing maintenance complaints. Once all of the information pertaining to a complaint has been transmitted by 311 and received by HPDInfo, the system informs the respective borough office within HPD’s Division of Code Enforcement (Code Enforcement). Each complaint is assigned a priority level that is used to determine how soon the complaint should be addressed by HPD. A complaint can be prioritized as being dire, an emergency, or a non-emergency.
HPD attempts to inform the last validly registered building owner of the complaint via telephone or email. In addition, HPD attempts to call the tenant to determine whether the conditions have been corrected. If the tenant states that the conditions have been corrected, the complaint will be closed in HPDInfo. If the tenant cannot be reached or if he or she states that the condition still exists, Code Enforcement sends an inspector to conduct an inspection. HPD has more than 400 uniformed inspectors who respond to the various housing maintenance complaints it receives. Once a complaint inspection is recorded in HPDInfo, the complaint is automatically closed. However, any cited violations will remain open until resolved.
If an inspector cannot gain access to an apartment, the inspector must leave a “no access” card. For an emergency or non-emergency complaint, one attempt to gain access is generally made. For a dire complaint, two attempts are generally made. A complaint is closed in HPDInfo if an inspector is unable to inspect the premises.
If an inspector finds violations, an owner will be issued a Notice of Violation (NOV). Violations are classified according to hazard classes A (non-hazardous), B (hazardous), or C (immediately hazardous). According to the Mayor’s Management Report, HPD received more than 540,000 housing maintenance complaints, conducted more than 660,000 inspections, issued more than 385,000 violations, and closed more than 540,000 complaints each year during Fiscal Years 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Audit Findings and Conclusions
The audit found weaknesses in HPD’s handling of housing maintenance complaints and that considerable improvements are needed. While HPD has established informal timeliness benchmarks for addressing housing maintenance complaints and procedures for contacting tenants to determine whether the conditions about which they complained have been corrected, it needs to improve the oversight of its borough offices’ performance to address the following weaknesses:
- Housing maintenance complaints were not consistently addressed in a timely manner based on HPD’s informal goals;
- Certified lead paint violations were not consistently re-inspected within 14 days;
- “No access” and “not reached” inspection results were not monitored effectively;
- There were inadequate controls for the follow up of tenant challenges to owners’ claims of having corrected the violations;
- Mailings of NOVs and tenant challenges were often returned to the borough offices as undeliverable and insufficient follow-up measures were taken;
- Controls over owner certifications need to be strengthened;
- There was no goal for the re-inspection of certified non-lead-paint violations; and
- There were inadequate procedures for supervising inspectors.
In addition, based on the difficulties we observed in enforcing NOVs, we recommend that HPD consider the option of seeking authority to use an administrative tribunal to supplement its enforcement of housing regulations. We also recommend that HPD consider improving inspection efficiency by reallocating resources to update the portable devices used by inspectors in the field to record inspection results.
To address these issues, this report makes a total of 21 recommendations, including the following:
- HPD should monitor complaints more closely to ensure that they are addressed in a timely manner.
- HPD should monitor the timeliness of its re-inspections of certified lead paint violations more closely to better ensure that they are addressed within established timeframes.
- HPD should ensure that borough offices follow the agency’s procedures when inspectors are unable to gain access to premises to conduct inspections.
- HPD should ensure that all boroughs record the receipt of tenant calls informing HPD that conditions have not been corrected and the receipt of Notice of Receipt of Violation Certifications (Tenant Challenge forms) in HPDInfo.
- HPD should monitor the recording of undelivered NOVs and tenant challenge forms and investigate the cause of mailings that are frequently returned as undeliverable.
- HPD should revise its procedures instructing supervisors how to conduct field checks in order to provide detailed guidance to the borough offices. These procedures should include, among other things, how often field checks should take place and how they should be documented.
In its response, HPD officials agreed with 11 of the audit’s recommendations and partially agreed with another 6 recommendations. HPD disagreed with the 4 recommendations related to conducting re-inspections of lead-paint violations for which owners’ certifications were late, recording undeliverable NOVs and Tenant Challenge forms in HPDInfo, and seeking authority to use a City administrative tribunal to supplement its enforcement of the Housing Maintenance Code in Housing Court.
The full text of HPD’s written response is included as an addendum to the report.