App could have some landlords steamed, get warm welcome from others

App could have some landlords steamed, get warm welcome from others
Teaming up: From left, Tristan Siegel, Caroline Senatore, and Noelle Francois helped create this year’s Big Apps contest winnner, Heat Seek. The tool lets people remotely record temperature at their apartments.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

This app is supposed to turn up the heat for Brooklyn tenants.

Heat Seek NYC, a tool to help keep temperatures comfortable in residential buildings, is getting a trial run in Kings County this winter. The system won the city’s Big Apps contest this year and is being installed in 10 Brooklyn apartment buildings, though the need for it in the borough is much greater, a company honcho said.

“Last winter 11,000 Brooklynites complained to 311 about inadequate heat,” said Heat Seek NYC co-founder Tristan Siegel. “We’re excited to make Brooklyn a warmer place.”

Heat Seek uses small sensors to periodically check temperatures in an apartment building and sends the readings to a website where the data can be stored and monitored. It allows for landlords to keep tabs on energy use and helps tenants keep the heat above legally required minimums.

Borough President Adams, who is installing the system in a three-family building he owns, said the program is a shot across the bow against slumlords.

“The heat is on in buildings that have bad landlords,” he said.

Tenants who complain to the city about not having heat in the winter often have trouble proving in court that the temperature in their apartment is below city-required levels. That is because after they make a complaint, the city calls the building manager and tells him or her an inspector will be coming to the building to check the temperature, according to a lawyer with the Urban Justice Center, a group that helps tenants fight landlords. Once they get the warning call, landlords with any amount of sense turn the heat on until after the inspection, the attorney said.

“Bad actors are given an opportunity to flout the law,” Stephanie Rudolph said.

One of the buildings Rudolph works with in Crown Heights received Heat Seek sensors last winter as part of the company’s early trial. Vernaline McFarlane lives in that building, and explained that her landlord has been trying to get longtime tenants out.

“He was putting the heat on for 10 minutes in the morning, and 10 minutes at night. And that’s it,” McFarlane said. “He was doing everything he can to put us out.”

Rudolph often advises her clients to keep their own log of temperatures by hand during disputes like this. But lawyers for building owners often argue that tenant-kept logs are not reliable, she said.

“The problem is that landlords question the integrity of the data or they question the thermometers,” Rudolph said. “I’m constantly arguing with judges that a thermometer was accurate.”

Heat Seek solves this problem because it provides a reliable and impartial recording of temperatures that does not rely on renters taking readings for themselves.

“Calibrated sensors could help a lot,” she said.

Heat Seek won $25,000 from the Economic Development Corporation in the Big Apps contest and its heads hope to start manufacturing the devices soon, in Brooklyn if possible. Landlords who are trying to be tenant-friendly, or just to cut costs, can also use Heat Seek to make sure their heating system is efficient and that no heat is being lost. The pilot program includes a Bergen Street building owned by the Fifth Avenue Committee, which manages below-market-rate housing, and its executive director said Heat Seek would help to keep tabs on temperatures in ancient Brooklyn buildings.

“A lot of our buildings are old, and uneven heating is something we’re challenged with,” said Michelle de la Uz. “This basically takes 19th and 20th century properties and brings them into the 21st century.”

Techno Files

The blog TechCrunch has launched a new web video series focused on Brooklyn startups. In the first episode of “Built in Brooklyn the blog checks in with Dumbo’s Maker’s Row, a go-between that connects companies with manufacturers. The show’s crew also visits Navy Yard manufacturers.

• • •

Online shipping company Shyp launched in New York this week from a new headquarters in Industry City. The San Francisco startup aims to put the post office out of business by letting users take a photo of an item they want to ship, sending a messenger to pick it up, then packaging and shipping it wherever.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Beep approved: Borough President Adams says he is installing Heat Seek in a rental apartment he owns, at an undisclosed location.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

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