Cold Weather, Lack of Heat Hits Less Expensive Neighborhoods Harder

Originally posted on January 10, 2018 2:23 pm
Updated on February 11, 2018 5:22 pm

The Same NYC Neighborhoods and Addresses are Suffering Again This Year

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been cold outside. Bitter cold was the theme of the first week of 2018, with more cold New Yorkers in the past week than in any previous year on record. Actually, the nearly 30,000 complaints during the “bomb-cyclone” mean there were about as many cold New Yorkers as there were during the first week of the previous 3 years combined. This cold snap brought in 29,386 complaints, of which 18,567 were unique. Compare that to 8,092 complaints (5,828 unique) for the first week of last year. This brings the 2018 “Heat Season” to date (10/1/17-1/8/18) total to 120,780 complaints (83,161 unique).

We can’t highlight enough how important this distinction is, as some outlier addresses keep popping up every year. 89-21 Elmhurst Ave has received 1,298 complaints this season, spread across 50 days. This tops the record they set last year when they made 1,222 complaints for the whole heat season, which ends May 31. Surely someone there is really cold, but they’re fuming as they make over 25 complaints per day. 1025 Boynton Avenue also appeared on the top complaint list again with 574 complaints across 75 days (last year they made 430 complaints on 70 different days by January 7th). The top 50 complaint list is below (fig. 4 below).

De-duping helps minimize the effect of potentially malicious or very angry residents. By grouping together same-day calls from the same address that is reduced. We further normalize the data when looking at neighborhoods, by dividing by the number of rental units in a neighborhood (people that own their home and are cold should settle that dispute with their significant other). The number used when ranking neighborhoods and comparing to Median rents represent unique complaints per 1,000 rental units in a neighborhood.

With all this in mind, RentHop has analyzed which neighborhoods have the coldest New Yorkers and why. Here are the key findings from the study:

  • A strong correlation was found between rent prices and complaints about lack of heat. the ‘Normalized Heat Complaints vs Median Rent’ chart demonstrates this (fig. 1)
  • Erasmus, Brooklyn; Hamilton Heights, Manhattan; and Norwood, Bronx were the top 3 complaint neighborhoods and appeared in the top 5 last year as well (fig. 2)
  • A side-by-side geographic comparison shows that the same NYC neighborhoods that were problematic for complaints last year are having issues again this year (fig. 3)
  • Nearly half of the addresses receiving the most unique heat complaints this season ranked high last year as well (fig. 4)
  • Heat Complaints for the first week of 2018 set a record and amounted to nearly as many as were received during the previous 3 years’ first weeks combined (fig. 5)
  • Besides being the worst first week on record, it also ranked as the most complained-about week of any week over the past 3 years, in terms of unique and duplicated calls (fig. 6)

Figure 1

When looking at the graph of heat complaints versus median rent, with median rent as the independent variable, we can see clustering of high numbers of complaints where rents are lower. Complaints are less common as rents rise. While we also see some neighborhoods with both low rents and low complaints, but we don’t see any neighborhoods with high rents and high complaints. Median rent data is for all of 2017 via RentHop’s listing database; heat complaints are unique complaints normalized by the number of rental units in a particular neighborhood, via ACS data.

Figure 2

The above table contains the full list of NYC neighborhoods, 2017 one-bedroom median rents, the number of NYC heat complaints (unique, raw, and normalized 2017 & 2018). It’s currently sorted by the normalized number of complaints received through 1/7/2018, but can be re-sorted on any column. When re-sorting by normalized complaints for this period last year, the top 3 names – Erasmus, Hamilton Heights, and Norwood – stay in the top 5.

For the most part, the 10 neighborhoods with the most freezing New Yorkers are the same as last year but in a slightly different order. Rent in these neighborhoods is also well below the NYC median, which hovers around $3,000 for a one-bedroom. The top 10 neighborhoods all have rents below $2,000, save for Crown Heights. We can see that these issues are repeated and prevalent over time. Shown geographically next, it is even more clear how things are unfortunately not changing.

Figure 3

Taking a look at the above maps, it’s hard to discern one from another, which at first prompts a “so-what” or a kind of bored response. After some thought though, I realize this means that same people are suffering that were cold last year. The same landlords in the same areas still aren’t adequately heating their buildings, and the same Department of Housing isn’t doing enough to make sure these people aren’t cold. One can only imagine how the person or persons at these addresses making hundreds of calls must feel. Year-after-year, cold and seemingly screaming into the wind for help.

South-Central Brooklyn, Western Bronx and Harlem, Manhattan all appear in the darkest blue, representing the most complaints. Parts of Staten Island showed big percentage increases in their complaint numbers, although their totals have remained relatively low. Old Astoria saw a big jump in complaints as well as Queensboro Hill, Lincoln Square, and Brooklyn Heights. Battery Park City had the biggest drop in complaints (-60%).

Figure 4

The table above lists the most complained about addresses, ranked by unique complaint count, with raw counts as well. If the address received complaints last year as well, the number of complaints from this same period last year (October 1 – January 7th) as well as their rank last year is displayed. Any address that also ranked in the top 50 last year is highlighted in red. Nearly half of the list appeared in the top 50 last year too.

The prevalence of repeat offenders is quite disconcerting. It’s certainly possible that there are people that have it out for their landlords, but this many repeat names likely means that things aren’t being fixed and the same people that suffered last year are again this year.

Figure 5

The chart above shows how bad last week really was, compared to other first weeks in the last 8 years. 2014 came the closest, but was still about 50% less.

How does the NYC “Heat Season” work?

From October 1st through May 31 landlords are required to provide heat for all tenants. The requirements are pretty low:

  • Between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM, if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 68 degrees F
  • Between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, if the temperature outside falls below 40 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 55 degrees F

Figure 6

Looking back at the past 3 years of complaints, grouped by week, we can see that last week wasn’t just a bad first week, but a truly bad week overall. No other week in the past 3 years has even come close to generating as many complaints.

What can I do if I think my apartment isn’t being adequately heated?

If you find that your heat isn’t meeting the low minimum requirements, you should first reach out to your landlord. Certified Mail is recommended if it’s an ongoing issue, but I’ve found that text also helps keep a record of the issue and sometimes false promises. If this doesn’t work, calling 311 or visiting the online portal for creating complaints, allows you to make complaints, anonymously if you wish. An inspector from the NYC HPD will come to check the building for violations, usually within a few days, but from the looks of things, they may be backed up.

Regardless, be diligent. Repeated calls and texts to my own landlord has helped me get a little warmer. Usually just one call to 311 gets the message to a scroogey landlord that you know your rights.

Moving into a new place?

Use the NYC Housing Preservation & Developments’s tool to check the address of the building for past and open violations.

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