Heat Seek Blog
COLD, hard facts
Every year, hundreds of thousands of New York City residents file complaints with 311, a non-emergency call service that serves as the catch-all access point to all New York City agencies. Throughout the year, approximately two hundred different types of complaints are logged, ranging from excessive noise to rude taxi cab drivers to dangerous road conditions. The biggest offender, however, has historically been heat complaints. On average, the temperature from October to May in New York City is in the low-to-mid-40s and many tenants - who often have no control over their heat or hot water - are at the mercy of their landlords to adequately provide warmth.
Thirty-five years ago the New York City government saw the heating of apartments as a very big issue and, as a result, The Truth in Heating law came into effect on January 1, 1981. This law, still in effect today, stipulates specific rules landlords must abide by when it comes to providing heat for tenants in rental units. First, if the outdoor temperature is below 55F during the day - defined as 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. - your landlord is required, by law, to ensure that your apartment is at least 68F. In the evenings, if the temperature outside falls below 40F, the inside temperature must be at least 55F. The ‘heat season’ during which these laws apply spans October 1st to May 31st each year.
Despite this law, many landlords ignore their tenant’s pleas, and the city’s fines, and fail to adequately heat their buildings. Last summer, Heat Seek analyzed New York City’s anonymized 311 complaint information to call attention to the scale of the heating problem in the city. This summer, we’re doing it again as we explore the newest round of data.
What have we uncovered so far? A couple of interesting findings, in fact. First, as seen in Figure 1, this past winter noise complaints surpassed heat complaints for the first time since the city began publishing its open data.
Figure 1: Total Complaint Counts by Winter
Second, we found an incredible 13% drop in heating complaints this past winter (Figure 2). Whereas the winter of 2014-2015 saw 230,702 heat-related complaints, this past winter recorded approximately thirty-thousand fewer heat complaints: 200,304. What’s more, it’s clear that the drop did not happen in just one borough, but across all boroughs.
Figure 2: Count of Heat Complaints by Winter by Borough
Despite this drop, we see the same relative proportions of heat complaints across the boroughs over time, as Figure 3 shows. The Bronx and Brooklyn make up the majority of the complaints - nearly 2/3rds. Manhattan and Queens compose about a third of the complaints, while Staten Island barely weighs in. This trend is consistent across heat seasons.
Figure 3: Percent of Heat Complaints by Winter by Borough
Why did the drop in heating complaints occur? It is difficult to be certain without digging in further - both into the 311 dataset and other datasets - and even asking HPD officials outright (as of this posting they haven’t yet responded to a request for comment). But it seems the most likely culprit is this past winter’s mild weather. Checking Weather Underground’s history, we found that this year’s winter was quite tame compared to past winters. Between October 1, 2015 and May 31, 2016, the average temperature in the city was 49F. For the same period a year ago, the average temperature was 45F. And for the winter of 2012-2013, the average temperature was even lower at 44F. While a few degrees might not seem like much, it likely means at least a few more of the bitterly cold days that cause a spike in heat complaints.
In order to explore further, we tried looking at the data another way. Rather than total complaint count, we looked at how many buildings had a heat complaint, to see if those figures followed a similar trend. They did. We found that almost 5,000 fewer buildings registered a heat complaint with 311 in 2015 compared to 2014.
Winter 2011-2012 - 30,616
Winter 2012-2013 - 37,411
Winter 2013-2014 - 34,848
Winter 2014-2015 - 37,685
Winter 2015-2016 - 32,770
This got us thinking - were fewer buildings making calls to 311 for all types of complaints, or just heat? It turns out that overall complaints (and the number of buildings making them) are actually increasing. More people are taking advantage of the 311 system to register complaints than ever before, a result of the city’s population increasing, and more and more New Yorkers becoming aware of 311.
Winter 2011-2012 - 348,123
Winter 2012-2013 - 376,094
Winter 2013-2014 - 399,285
Winter 2014-2015 - 441,624
Winter 2015-2016 - 466,096
At the end of the day, aggregates of complaints can only tell us so much about New York City’s heating crisis, since complaints are just a proxy for how often apartments are actually in violation of the law. That’s where Heat Seek data comes in. In future posts we’ll be analyzing our sensor data to provide context that the city’s open data alone can’t provide. Stay tuned!
- JUL 05, 2016 -
Spring is here: wrapping up our winter 2015 pilot
Spring is here, and as the weather gets warmer, we’re able to take a step back and reflect on this winter’s pilot program. It went exceedingly well! I thought I’d share a bit about how the program ran, how many folks we served, and what we accomplished this winter.
As many of you know, Heat Seek helps tenants resolve their home heating issues by providing the objective, reliable temperature data they need to hold their landlords accountable. We do this by installing low cost, web connected temperature sensors in buildings across New York City.
For the winter 2015 pilot program, we sought out buildings with the following criteria: (1) an organized tenant association, (2) at a high risk for continued landlord abuse, as identified by our partners, and (3) stated willingness to bring a group case to housing court.
Heat Seek staff and volunteers install the temperature sensors at the beginning of heat season (Oct 1 - May 31), and they remain in place throughout the winter. The temperature sensors monitor the temperature by taking a reading once per hour. Readings are transmitted via 3G internet to our web app, where they are recorded in the tenant’s account.
The web app incorporates the outdoor temperature, the time of day, and time of year in order to identify whether or not a building is in violation of NYC housing code. Tenants and their advocates can access our web app at any time to view their readings and can download heat logs for use in tenant-landlord negotiations and/or housing court.
During the winter of 2016, Heat Seek ran a pilot program in 56 buildings throughout four boroughs.
By the numbers:
- 56 buildings received sensors
- 73 individual apartments served
- 16 community partners, including attorneys, community organizations, and tenant groups, as well as the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) the city agency responsible for enforcing the housing code
While we are still analyzing the results of the winter 2015 Pilot, a few initial trends have emerged:
Heat Seek data help clients achieve more favorable legal outcomes.
In three separate cases that spanned different attorneys and at least eight buildings, landlords made more concessions to their tenants and our clients.
“[Heatseek] data are much more digestible than manual heat logs, especially for judges.” Attorney, Legal Services NYC
“With Heat Seek, I was able to submit proof of the lack of heat in my client’s apartment. Upon seeing the evidence, the landlord and his attorney conceded the issue and the landlord agreed to waive all rent claims and provide a rent-stabilized lease.“ Edmund Witter, Attorney at Legal Aid Society
Landlords restore or increase heat provision when they know Heat Seek sensors have been deployed in their buildings.
In four buildings, tenants shared Heat Seek data directly with their landlords, who shortly thereafter turned up the heat. These increases in heat are reflected in our data.
To view the neighborhoods where Heat Seek was active this winter, be sure to check out our Pilot Map!
- APR 21, 2016 -
It’s been a while, but we’re back!
I know, I know. We’ve been conspicuously absent from this blog for a while. In truth, we’ve been so busy running all over the city installing Heat Seek sensors, connecting with lawyers, attending tenant association meetings, and supporting folks in housing court that we haven’t had much time to share our progress with anyone outside our core team.
But today’s the day we’re changing all that. Get ready!
- We’re in 50 buildings this winter (a HUGE increase from 6 last winter). William made a great map of all the buildings we’re in by City Council district, which you can check out here.
- 10 of the buildings we’re in are NYCHA buildings. Did you know that NYCHA is the largest public housing authority in North America? Between 400,000 and 600,000 people live in NYCHA housing, but it’s been allowed to fall into disrepair and currently has a $16 billion capital backlog.
- We have 10 cases with lawyers in housing court. As many of you know, this represents a very important goal for us this winter as we explore the variety of ways tenants use our data to get better outcomes in court.
- Speaking of lawyers, we’ve grown our legal partners to include Legal Aid, Legal Services NYC, Brooklyn Legal Services Corp A, UJC, and MFY.
- We’ve also grown our network of community partners to include CASA, Crown Heights Tenant Union, Flatbush Tenant Coalition, Pratt Area Community Council, Tenants and Neighbors, and UHAB.
- Our legal & community partners represent our pipeline - they tell us which buildings are good candidates for Heat Seek sensors. By growing our partner network, we’re able to help more New Yorkers in need.
- We’re spending the spring compiling success stories. We’re interviewing our tenants, community partners, and lawyers to get a sense of how they used our data this winter to get their heat restored. We’ll be compiling and sharing that soon!
In February, we also started our time at Beespace. Its a fantastic incubator with a ton of great supports (both financial and programmatic), and soon we’ll be working from there full time. We hold a weekly meetup there on Wednesdays from 6pm-8pm that’s open to the public - feel free to join us!
We’ve got so much more to share, but that’s enough for one post. More to come soon…
- MAR 25, 2016 -
You don’t have to be a billionaire to give back
#GivingTuesday is about ordinary people coming together to make a difference in their communities.
At Heat Seek, we do that every day. At our core, we’re a group of New Yorkers who saw a problem in our community and decided to fix it. And now we’re asking for your help.
Donate $60 and we’ll provide a temperature sensor to a tenant in need. Donate $80 and we’ll provide a hub, establishing an internet connection and enabling a whole building to connect to the Heat Seek sensor network. If you’re feeling generous, $260 provides a starter kit (1 hub + 3 cells) to outfit a whole building with Heat Seek sensors.
With your help, we can empower New Yorkers with the data they need to hold their landlords accountable and get their heat restored.
Donate today to warm someone’s heart and home.
- DEC 01, 2015 -