A persistent — and predictable — problem

Last winter, the city received a whopping 230,702 heating complaints, more than any other year since it began publishing 311 data in 2010.

This spike is indicative of a larger problem: NYC’s heating crisis is becoming increasingly dire. After a decrease during the winter of 2011-2012, the complaint count has risen steadily, up 35% over the last three heating seasons. And while it’s understandable that the total complaint count would fluctuate with the severity of the winter, the overall trend is clear. Heating complaints are becoming more and more prevalent in NYC and the crisis is objectively getting worse.

And it’s not just the same individuals making more complaints. The number of unique buildings logging one or more complaint has also increased, following a similar trend as overall complaint count. In winter 2010-11, 35,170 individual buildings submitted at least one heating complaint. Affected buildings decreased to 30,160 in winter 2011, and then increased steadily each subsequent year, reaching an all-time high of 37,648 in winter 2014-15. For reference, there are only 76,829 residential rental buildings in all of NYC according to the NYC Property Tax FY 2014 Annual Report*, meaning roughly half of all rental buildings reported at least one heating complaint last year.

During heating season, which spans October to May, the 311 complaint count regularly exceeds 1000 in a single day. In winter’s harshest months, the complaint count rarely dips below this benchmark. Predictably, there is an inverse relationship between the outdoor temperature and the number of complaints received by the city. The colder the temperature outside, the higher the complaint rate to the city.

Take Thursday, January 8, 2015. Commuters starting their morning were greeted by 20 MPH winds and temperatures in the single digits, conditions that translated to a “feels like” temperature of -6℉. The city’s 311 service was inundated with a record number of complaints -  5,278 in just twenty-four hours. While obviously extreme, the preceding and following days were similarly high. The NYC Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD), which handles these heating and hot water complaints, is understandably overwhelmed. When temperatures dip, complaint counts spike, and HPD is spread especially thin just when they are needed most.

Our aim in drilling into the City’s open data is to shine a light on the severity of the problem, and to raise awareness around the need for change. We’ll continue to post compelling stats throughout the summer as we gear up for heat season 2015-16. We hope you’ll stick with us, and join us in our outrage.

* See page 1, “Market and Assessed Value Profile, Taxable Properties by Property Type FY 2014” - Class 2: Rentals (23,617) and 4-10 Family Rentals (53,212)