New building law takes aim at asthma triggers

BY GABE HERMAN | With the City Council passing the Asthma-Free Housing Act on Jan. 19, landlords will now be required to have their buildings inspected every year for asthma triggers, such as mold, pests and rodents. They will also have to address any conditions that could lead to infestation, and have to tell tenants about any such building issues that arise.

A Web site, Localize.city, which analyzes New York City data by neighborhood, is giving tenants power to check building violations for themselves, instead of relying on landlord notifications, by looking up any city building address to see its history of violations.

The site also provides data about neighborhood rates for asthma, mold and pests. Evidence has shown that cockroaches are actually the leading asthma trigger in New Yorkers’ homes, according to the Coalition for Asthma-Free Homes, which advocated for the new city legislation.

And there is a high correlation between high rates of mold and pest violations, and high asthma rates, according to a recent analysis by Localize.city. The site examined New York City housing violations over the last five years and adult asthma rates from 2015-16 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s state-based Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Lower Manhattan generally has low rates for pest and mold violations. But the East Village and Lower East Side have moderately high asthma rates, each with 9.5 cases per 100 adults. Similarly, in Chelsea the rate is 9.4. Brooklyn and the Bronx generally had neighborhoods with the highest asthma rates, in the range of 12 or 13 people affected per 100 adults.

Asthma rates are highest in the Bronx and Brooklyn, as seen on this map by Localize.city.

Of course, a specific building even in a neighborhood with lower violation rates could have issues, and may be hard to spot.

“A fresh coat of paint often covers up serious maintenance problems which New Yorkers only uncover after moving in,” according to Steve Kalifowitz, president of Localize.city. “Having done one of the most extensive studies on housing violations, we’re enabling all New Yorkers to know if the building and apartment they’re considering moving into have been well-maintained.”

Of course, the site benefits existing residents, as well.

The Villager profiled a mold problem in an East Village building that actually saw mushrooms growing in the place due to poor upkeep. File photo

“This capability isn’t just valuable for people who are planning to move,” Kalifowitz said. “We’ve heard from many residents who didn’t realize the extent of the problems in their building until they searched their address.”

In 2017, The Villager profiled an apartment that was mold-infested due to new landlords’ negligence.

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