City Flushes Away Millions on Toilets That Don’t Work: Tenants Face Eviction for Refusing Installation

The Giuliani administration wasted more than $7 million giving landlords rebates under two “water-conservation” programs — allowing them to conduct water-use surveys and install “low flow” toilets — even though they only did work under one, according to an audit released July 30 by Comptroller Alan Hevesi.The audit also revealed that close to 40 percent of the tenants who received the new toilets had problems such as overflows, clogs, and leaks. It also reported that the types of toilets that the Giuliani administration had approved for installation, at taxpayer expense, included models identical or similar to those rated “worse than average” by Consumer Reports, a leading consumer-testing organization.

The audit, involving a random sampling of buildings participating in the Residential Water Survey and Toilet Rebate programs, found that the Giuliani administration wasted millions of dollars by allowing its chosen contractor to administer both programs at the same time. The contractor issued full rebates under both programs — when landlords were installing toilets under only one of them. The program administrator had an incentive to allow this to happen, because it got paid more when a building participated in both programs than it did when it was only involved in one.

Because of this mismanagement, the goal of the Residential Water Survey Program — installation of water-saving showerheads and a survey of leaks in buildings — often did not take place. Instead, toilets would be installed under the Toilet Rebate program and the contractor would receive payment under both programs.

Rent-stabilized tenants have been especially hard-hit by the mismanagement of these programs. Landlords have been demanding that tenants allow them to install the “low flow toilets” under the program, so they can receive their share of the money being distributed to owners by the Giuliani administration. These landlords have been able to threaten their tenants with eviction for “refusing access” if they fail to allow the new toilets to be installed.

The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the agency that enforces the regulations governing rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments, assisted these landlords by issuing an opinion letter stating that a tenant can be evicted for not allowing them to install the new toilets. This opinion letter appears to contradict the mandate of the Rent Stabilization Code, which states that a tenant can only be evicted for refusing access in cases where a landlord is seeking access to make repairs that are legally required, or for improvements in their building that DHCR has already approved (after the tenant has had an opportunity to contest them).

In effect, DHCR has taken the position that a tenant can be forced to accept toilets that have had a defective rate of almost 40 percent, or be evicted.

We urge tenants to write letters of protest to the Giuliani administration demanding better quality control in its water-conservation programs, and write to the DHCR demanding that it rescind its opinion letter and respect the rights of tenants to challenge or oppose plans by landlords who make defective or unnecessary improvements in their tenants’ apartments.