Federal Court Settlement Requires NYC Housing Authority to Fix Rampant Mold and Moisture Problems in Public Housing

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will address mold and excessive moisture in its apartments more quickly and thoroughly as a result of an agreement approved by the court in, Baez v. NYCHA, filed by NCLEJ and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The lawsuit was filed in federal court in December 2013 on behalf of people with asthma living in public housing.

For many in public housing, excessive moisture in their homes has led to recurring and uncontrolled mold and mildew growth, wet and rotted walls, foul musty odors, bubbling and peeling paint, air toxins, and increases in cockroaches and other vermin, all of which aggravate the tenants’ asthma. Consequences include difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, and, in the worst cases, hospitalization. As a result, tenants often miss work or school, and require additional doctor and hospital visits. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk.

In the past, NYCHA failed to address these problems at their source. It would often take several months or longer for NYCHA to respond to repair requests, if they responded at all. When repairs were made, the agency used superficial, cosmetic fixes — such as bleaching and painting over moldy walls — that did not prevent the problem from returning.

One of the claims in this case was that NYCHA violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with asthma who experienced mold or excessive moisture in their apartments. The resulting settlement agreement aims to make significant changes to how NYCHA views and responds to mold and moisture problems, as well as how it treats residents with asthma. Not only will NYCHA be required to remove the mold, it will also be required to fix leaks and flooding, insulate pipes, and address other sources of moisture, which frequently cause mold contamination. NYCHA will be required to respond to mold and moisture complaints within strict time frames depending on the severity of the condition.

The settlement additionally includes monitoring provisions. NYCHA will provide plaintiffs’ attorneys with regular status reports and periodic samplings of mold complaints by housing officials to determine if work orders are completed in the required time.

Following a hearing at which approximately 30 NYCHA tenants spoke concerning their complications from asthma and the mold and moisture conditions rampant in their apartments, on April 8, 2014, the federal court signed an order approving the settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate on behalf of the plaintiff class. NCLEJ and NRDC will closely monitor implementation of the settlement. Should the monitoring show that NYCHA has systematically failed to follow the requirements of the settlement, the settlement provides plaintiffs with the ability to seek enforcement of the agreement under the court’s jurisdiction. The agreement will last for 36 months.

The agreement covers all of the more 400,000 New Yorkers living in public housing administered by NYCHA, the largest public housing authority in North America. Residents are mostly people of color, with limited means. Some spend their entire lives in public housing. Many have no other housing choices.

“Imagine putting your child to bed knowing that the moldy air she breathes makes her asthma grow worse by the day,” said Jenny Pelaez, attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Or watching your elderly parent, sitting in a living room with mold on the walls, struggle to finish a sentence without coughing. Now imagine not having the means to get your family out of those conditions. This is what many of the city’s tenants have been forced to endure. Living in public housing should not mean resigning your family to hazards that threaten their well-being. In a great city like New York, there is no reason that people with disabilities should be housed in conditions that prevent them from enjoying a healthy life.”

For additional information, contact Greg Bass, Tedde Tasheff, or Jenny Pelaez at (212) 633-6967.

Read our press release (April 2014)

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