Housing Code Enforcement in New York City

by Michael B. Teitz, S. Rosenthal


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An examination of New York City's efforts to enforce the Housing Maintenance Code for rental housing through the Office of Code Enforcement (OCE). Widespread undermaintenance results from economic and social forces too powerful to be overcome by the OCE. Too-rigid rent controls, operating cost increases, poverty-stricken tenants, and vandalism force landlords to undermaintain and abandon buildings. Much OCE effort is wasted: inspections reveal trivial or duplicate complaints, or chronic offenders. Information gathered when complaints are placed and during inspections is inadequate. Resources available through OCE include none appropriate for buildings in real financial distress. Violators brought to court typically receive trivial punishment. The system needs redesigning: (1) OCE must acquire legal authority and financial resources to respond promptly, appropriately, effectively. (2) Housing standards need revision to reflect the realities of the marketplace. (3) OCE needs procedures to identify substandard buildings in enough detail for appropriate response. Even such a redesigned program needs support from a generally improved market.

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