A newly-formed tenants union under the auspices of Children and Family Services has brought a problem to my attention, and I have been working with my colleague Ralph Remington to address it.
Under the City's current ordinances and policies, certain unscrupulous landlords have been allowed to get away with not providing adequate heat for their tenants, especially in autumn.
The current ordinance is a convoluted mess. It requires that landlords begin providing heat when the temperature stays below 60 degrees for 24 hours or more. At this point, a 72-hour clock starts, at the end of which landlords face a small fine of $200 and risk having their property condemned. However, if the temperature goes above 60 degrees during that 72-hour period, the clock restarts. Landlords who wish to save money by not providing heat have learned how to play this game with the City, leaving their tenants cold for much of October.
Ralph and I have already succeeded in convincing staff to change their administrative citation policies to begin giving fines to property owners after a building is inadequately heated for 24 hours (down from the current 72). The timeline for condemnation is still 72 hours, however, to prevent unnecessary evictions. This policy also allows scrupulous landlords with major heating system repairs on their hands to avoid fines by providing a UL-certified electric heat source to each unit while the heating system is being fixed.
In addition, we are proposing a change to the ordinance that would require landlords to provide heat based on a simple date range of September 21 through May 1, rather than the complicated temperature formula in existing ordinance. I expect this change to come forward early next year.