Maintenance 101 for New York's Law-Breaking Landlords

In the Big Apple, landlords who fail to provide heat, ignore plumbing problems, and sidestep other obligations may not have to pay a fine - if they go back to school.

As an alternative to prosecution and possible fines, New York housing enforcers are sentencing some law-breaking building owners to a course on how to be a good landlord. City lawyers and housing-court judges are now willing to waive the usual fines - which average $400 to $500 - for some first-time offenders on condition that they attend nine hours of instruction. Topics include maintaining heating systems, the technical aspects of running a building, and the legalities involved in evictions and leases. About 100 landlords have attended this year.

Almost one-third of the city's 2,300 landlords sued each year for heat and hot water complaints are "small players," who are often ignorant of their responsibilities or overwhelmed by debt, say lawyers who make referrals to the program.

And helping them helps the community, says Anne Pasmanick, one of the instructors. One of the purposes of the class is to maintain housing in depressed neighborhoods. If landlords lose their properties, or the properties fall into disrepair, she says, it decreases the number of affordable rental homes on the market.

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