New Tech Helps Tenants Make Their Case in Court

Corinne Ramey at the Wall Street Journal: “Tenants and their advocates are using new technology to document a lack of heat in apartment buildings, a condition they say has been difficult to prove in housing-court cases.

Small sensors provided by the New York City-based nonprofit Heat Seek, now installed in some city apartments, measure temperatures and transmit the data to a server. Tenant advocates say the data buttress their contention that some landlords withhold heat as a way to oust rent-regulated tenants.

“It’s really exciting to be able to track this information and hopefully get the courts to accept it, so we can show what everybody knows to be true,” said Sunny Noh, a supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s Tenant Rights Coalition, which filed a civil suit using Heat Seek’s data.

…The smaller device, called a cell, transmits hourly temperature readings to the larger device, called a hub, through a radio signal. The hub is equipped with a small modem, which it uses to send data to a web server. The nonprofit typically places a hub in each building and the cells inside individual apartments.

Last winter, Heat Seek’s data were used in eight court cases representing a total of about 20 buildings, all of which were settled, Ms. Francois said. Currently, the sensors are in about six buildings and she anticipates about 50 buildings will have them by the end of the winter.

Data from Heat Seek haven’t been admitted at a trial yet, said Ms. Noh, the Legal Aid lawyer.

The nonprofit, with help from housing lawyers, has chosen to focus on gentrifying neighborhoods because they expect landlords there have more incentives to force out rent-regulated tenants….(More)