Sure, it may be 90 degrees this week, but (haha) Winter Is Coming. Soon New Yorkers will be camped in front of radiators, lips chapping, struggling to recall those halcyon weekends of going to the beach, lounging in the park, wearing less than two layers of clothing. Heat is a luxury, though, and in the winter the absence of it is one of the most strongly-felt consequences of negligent landlords. Every year, there are more than 200,000 complaints about the lack of heat in homes, and the effects fall disproportionately on the poor.
City law dictates that temperatures indoors must be kept at a certain level between October and May, but the process for reporting unheated apartments is time-intensive and heavily bureaucratic: tenants must keep temperature logs by hand and bring them to housing court, or dial 311 to get the city to send out an inspector, which can take weeks.
Enter technology. Now there’s an app to streamline the process: Heat Seek NYC, “a thermometer that connects to the internet to help New York City turn the heat on for thousands of tenants with no heat in the winter.” The way it works is simple: tenants install a system of web-enabled sensors throughout their apartments, which automatically take temperature readings every hour and record them in a centralized database online. Tenants, advocates, and watchdog lawyers can then log in to check the data and set alerts if it drops below a certain level.
Heat Seek NYC is raising $50,000 on Kickstarter to provide 1,000 sensors to tenants who need them most by winter. Last winter, Heat Seek tracked heating complaints made via 311 calls, broken down by zip code. Unsurprisingly, the Cold Map identifies neighborhoods like the South Bronx and Flatbush as the most at-risk. Future versions of the map will incorporate data gathered from the app, enabling “tenants, landlords, advocacy groups, and government organizations to dig into the figures that are most relevant to them.” It’s a worthy cause, and an easy one to overlook if you haven’t faced the problem personally.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.