Fu Ko Poon lives in a small Chinatown apartment without a working refrigerator or oven. The ceiling is yellow from water damage. For five years, the 74-year-old didn't even have electricity and had to light candles at night.
“I feel like I am the poorest New Yorker,” Fu says through a translator.
Today the city’s Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio, unveiled a new website that will help residents like Fu hold delinquent landlords accountable for unsafe and unsanitary conditions. New York City’s Worst Landlords Watch List allows residents to look up their building and landlord to see the number of violations they have racked up.
de Blasio says landlords get away with neglecting their tenants because it’s easy to ignore violations. “When a landlord gets a violation for a health and safety problem, they ignore it in many cases, and then they ignore it again, and they ignore it again,” he says. “We can't have that kind of consequence. They have to know they will be held accountable.”
de Blasio says city agencies should stop doing business with the landlords he calls “bad actors.” He also thinks state legislation should be enacted to stiffen penalties for landlords and to make them automatic. “When you or I get a parking ticket, we have to pay. If we don’t pay, that penalty goes up and up,” he says.
That’s how it should work for bad landlords as well, de Blasio suggests.
Instead, landlords skirt the law until they are taken to court, and so the violations and unsafe living conditions accumulate. Rodent infestations, lead paint, rotting floors and ceilings, leaks, no hot water, broken pipes, mold so bad it causes asthma. New Yorkers living in buildings operated by the worst landlords in the city have seen it all.
Christopher Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, says dilapidated buildings like 197 Madison, where Fu Ko Poon lives, are eerily similar to a nearby building that burned down in massive fire just a few months ago.
“It’s the same thing where the wiring are not there. Hallways were never painted. You have roaches,” he says. “The ceiling is falling apart—literally. You know, people are actually using a bucket to catch water.”
That nearby fire killed an elderly man and displaced 200 people. Kui says many buildings owned by the worst city landlords pose a similar risk.
You can search for a building or landlord here.