The Legal Aid Society is demanding that the New York City Housing Authority provide up to $15 million in rent refunds to public housing tenants that lost heat during the city’s cold front.
During a recent City Council meeting, data obtained from the NYCHA revealed that 323,098 public housing residents were without heat at some point between October 1 and January 22, with the average outage lasting for 48 hours. A significant portion of the outages occurred on some of the season’s coldest days where temperatures fell below freezing.
The New York Times reports that the Legal Aid Society sent a letter to NYCHA, threatening to take “necessary legal action” unless the issue is solved by February 21. Based on the average monthly rent of $509 per month, their lawyers believe that the NYCHA should shell out anywhere from $2.5 million to $15 million in rent payments. The Legal Aid Society is also demanding that the NYCHA open up warming facilities and work with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development in order to accurately track heat complaints.
“Building owners in New York City are legally obligated to provide heat and hot water for their tenants, “ said Legal Aid Society staff lawyer, Lucy Newman, in a statement. “This right applies equally to NYCHA tenants and those in private housing.”
In their defense, NYCHA is blaming old boilers combined with a shortage of staff as the reason why tenants were forced to cope without heat for so long during the outages. Since 2013, the agency’s number of boiler maintenance workers has decreased from 391 to now just 248.
“We understand how hard this winter has been on many of our residents,” said NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake. “Our focus is on fixing the underlying problems and upgrading our heating equipment as fast as possible to prevent future outages— and that’s where we’re devoting every resource we have.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to invest $200 million to repair and replace aged boilers and heating systems at 20 New York City Housing Authority developments. The repairs would benefit roughly 45,000 residents but aren’t expected to be complete until the end of 2022.