BP Adams Shuts Out the Cold with Heat Seek


Each winter, countless apartments in NYC fall below legal temperatures leaving tenants in the cold and unable to ask for help in a legal system that is confusing, difficult to navigate, and often unreliable. Today, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, alongside representatives from nonprofits Heat Seek and Just Fix NYC, announce changes in legislation and programs that will aim to help tenants seek justice.

In accordance to Intro Bill 0980 which recently passed in the NYC City Council, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will identify 50 buildings in the city that have received the highest volume of temperature violation complaints over the last two years. In each of these buildings, an internet-capable Heat Seek device will be installed in every unit.

These devices will continuously record the temperature in the apartment and compare it to the outside temperature in order to identify when and where violations are occurring and hold landlords accountable. These devices will be installed at no cost to tenants and will be paid for out of a fund of 1.5 million dollars the city has received from landlords found in violation of heat-related complaints.

In New York City, it is illegal for landlords to allow the temperature in units to fall below 68 degrees during the day and 62 degrees at night between Oct. 1 and May 31. Last winter, over two hundred thousand heat-related violations were reported across the city, with sometimes more than five thousand complaints being submitted in a single day.

Adams described the actions of landlords in violation as “systemic and illegal cost-saving measures that largely affect low-income communities of color.” This change, Adams says, referring to Heat Seek’s win at the NYC Big Apps competition in 2015, has been a long time coming.

After sitting down with judges and court officials who help to oversee heat violation cases, Adams confirmed that by compiling data from Heat Seek devices into a formal complaint using the free service provided by Just Fix NYC, tenants will be able to win cases in a real way and begin to see change. “We’re turning up the heat on landlords that typically turn down the heat on tenants in an illegal fashion,” he said. “We’re marrying technology with government to document individuals who are not properly providing the heat we use.”

Heat Seek Executive Director Noelle Francois with BP Adams. Photo by Owen Maldonado

Heat Seek Executive Director Noelle Francois comes from a background of social justice and wants her device to help people in underserved communities. She stated that the current system in place for documenting heat violations is largely unfair, requiring tenants who believe their building is in violation to take handwritten notes that log the temperature with a mercury thermometer multiple times a day, submitting a complaint to the city that they have to format themselves, and then waiting for an inspector to come.

Due to the sheer number of reports, it can take a long time for any sort of inspection to happen, and Francois listed numerous challenges that tenants will face even after submitting a complaint. “It is unlikely that the inspector is going to show up when the heat is below the legal limit, when the outside temperature is low enough that the building can be found in violation, and when the tenant is home. That’s a lot of factors that have to come together in order for a landlord to get a violation,” she says.

Francois says the Heat Seek device will have a huge impact because it holds landlords to empirical data. “If you’re a landlord who is not providing heat in your apartments because you don’t want to pay for it, or you want to drive out low income or rent-stabilized tenants, we’re gonna see that.”

Heat Seek is available to purchase online for $69.99 from Heat Seek’s official website, but the nonprofit will allow many residents of NYC to qualify and receive the device for free in order to ensure the device can be used by people from all economic backgrounds.

Adams hopes that the partnership between NYC, Heat Seek, and Just Fix NYC will be a stepping stone towards ensuring vulnerable communities get the assistance they need. “This small device is going to make a big impact on the lives of everyday New Yorkers,” he says.