Heat Seek NYC is the rare app that doesn’t aim just to make people’s lives’ easier, but aims to make them better. Even rarer, it’s gotten a boost from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. The app, which was designed by a group of college students, uses temperature sensors to electronically monitor the indoor temperature of apartments in a given building, and catch out landlords who are (illegally) not heating their buildings to the (legally) required level in the winter, in order to save themselves money.
Heat Seek NYC’s cofounders entered their concept into the NYC BigApps tech design competition, the New York Daily News reports, where they won $25,000 in top prizes toward developing their technology. “It’s a thermometer connected to the internet,” explains a video available at Heat Seek NYC’s website. The same video claims that over 200,000 heating complaints are filed every winter in New York City, which at one point this past January was as cold as -27 degrees Fahrenheit. The tenants most seriously and consistently affected by negligent landlords are low-income families and individuals, often in the very same neighborhoods that have seen a meteoric rise in luxury development in the past few years.
New York City’s heating requirements are clear-cut and readily available, and tenants whose apartments do not meet the city’s required standards may call 311 24 hours a day. But a phone number is not a solution; it’s a means to a solution, one streamlined and made more precise by Heat Seek NYC. The internet thermometer relays temperature information to a server, which generates a heat log and calculates when and to what extent landlords are in violation of the city’s laws.
It’s possible the problem isn’t so simple as heartless greed and penny-pinching indifference, since without the hard data of up-to-the-minute temperature reports, it may be difficult to know just how extreme the heating deficit in a given apartment in a given building is, especially from offsite. Then again, adequate heating seems to be a problem primarily in certain reaches of the city, and rarely if ever in others.
In one of the most telling aspects of Heat Seek NYC’s message, the team created a Cold Map using data from 311 collected by the City of New York, which shows the city ZIP codes with the most heating complaints. The outlay is predictable.
The Heat Seek NYC team has distributed Heat Seek devices to “at least 10 buildings across the borough,” according to the Daily News, and plan to expand the program city-wide. As the winters get colder, as they seem to be doing, the work of programs like Heat Seek NYC, public advocates, lawyers, and the City of New York to protect low-income tenants will become even more crucial.
Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.