Crucial City Council hearing on apartment heating

As New York, as well as most of the country, experiences a bitter winter, the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, chaired by Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, deputy leader, last Thursday held a hearing to consider two bills regarding apartment heating and gender neutral bathrooms.

The committee received testimony from representatives of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Department of Buildings (DOB), the Commission on Human Rights, advocates, legal service providers and members of the real estate industry.

The two bills included: Proposed Int. No. 722-A, sponsored by Williams, Council Member Mark Levine and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, would increase the required minimum temperatures during heating season, between Oct. 1 and May 31, regardless of outside temperatures.

Proposed Int. No. 871-A, sponsored by Council Members Daniel Dromm, Corey Johnson, Rosie Mendez and Carlos Menchaca, would require single-occupant bathrooms to be usable by persons of any gender.

In addition, the Committee passed Proposed Int. No. 49-A, sponsored by Council Members Cabrera and Cumbo, which would require DOB to notify council members and Community Boards of applications for new building construction or substantial alterations that will require a new certificate of occupancy for a building filed, approved or rejected.

“Both of today’s bills are no-brainers. There’s simply no justification for allowing New Yorkers, especially seniors and infants, to live in frigid 40 and 55 degree apartments or to deny transgender New Yorker their dignity and rights,” said Williams, representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.

In their testimony, HPD representatives noted they received over 200,000 heat complaints during the last heat season and have already received complaints from 491 buildings this year, 11 percent of which are repeat complaints.

“Yet, many of those complaints do not result in violations due to the existing outside temperature trigger and low heat requirement, which states owners are not currently required to provide heat unless the temperature falls below 55 degrees between 6 am and 10 pm or 40 degrees between 10 pm and 6 am,” Williams said.

“No tenant should be forced to shiver through cold days or nights in their own home,” Brewer added. “This bill amends our existing heat season rules to make them more easily enforceable, helping ensure New Yorkers in centrally-heated buildings aren’t denied this essential, basic service.”

According to Williams, the proposed apartment heating legislation would remove the outside temperature trigger and increase the minimum inside temperature to 72 degrees or above between 6 am and 10 pm and to 65 degrees or above between 10 pm and 6 am during heating season.

The committee also heard testimony regarding gender neutral bathrooms in New York City.

“No one should ever have to risk harassment or physical harm when using a restroom,” Dromm said. “Sadly, for many transgender and gender non-conforming people, fear of violence is part of their daily routine.

“As a council member representing one of the largest transgender populations in the city, I am pleased to be the prime sponsor of Intro 871 which would require single-occupant restrooms to be accessible to all, regardless of gender identity or expression,” he said. “This legislation will help ensure that these traditionally marginalized communities are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

The Gender Neutral Bathroom legislation would amend the New York City plumbing code, which sets forth the requirement that separate facilities be provided for each sex where plumbing fixtures are required, to exempt single-occupant toilet rooms from such requirement, Williams said.

Further, he said a new section would be added to clarify that single-occupant rest rooms shall be usable by persons of any sex, except where access is possible only through a room permissibly restricted by sex.

Additionally, Williams said the bill would amend the requirement that mandatory public facilities be designated by a legible sign for each sex, to clarify such requirement.

“We must constantly work to ensure we are respecting the basic needs and human rights of all New Yorkers,” he said. “It’s wrong to tell our seniors and families with young children that they don’t need heat when it’s 41 degrees at night. And it’s wrong to not provide safe and comfortable restrooms for transgender New Yorkers, who all too often face harassment and discrimination.”

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