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Turning Up Thermostats Would Boost Co-op and Condo Carbon Emissions

The Bronx

Climate Mobilization Act, Bronx fire, space heaters, carbon emissions, co-op and condo boards.

A faulty space heater caused the recent fire in the Bronx that claimed 17 lives.

March 28, 2022

Bad news for co-op and condo boards struggling to cut their buildings’ carbon emissions enough to comply with the Climate Mobilization Act. In response to the deadly January fire in the Bronx that killed 17 people, the New York City Council is considering a bill that would require landlords and co-op and condo boards to increase thermostats from 68 degrees to 70 degrees during the day and from 62 degrees to 66 degrees at night during the October-through-May heat season.

The Bronx fire was started by a faulty space heater in a building where tenants complained frequently of inadequate heat. It spread when numerous self-closing doors failed to close. The Climate Mobilization Act requires that buildings reduce their carbon emissions 40% by 2030 — or face stiff fines. But turning up the heat, especially in older buildings with old HVAC systems, could increase their energy use and costs and, ultimately, push buildings into noncompliance. 

“The extra couple of degrees makes a huge difference in the amount of natural gas that has to be used,” Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing and Improvement Program, tells Crain’s.

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” adds Deborah Riegel, a real estate lawyer at Rosenberg & Estis who is also president of her 126-unit co-op on the Upper East Side. “Requiring heat sensors would solve the problem they’re trying to solve. And the law requiring self-closing doors is not being enforced. The city should beef up enforcement of existing laws — not shift the burden to landlords and co-op and condo boards.”

Current fines for not complying with the temperature regulations are $250 to $500 per day for each initial heat or hot water violation and $500 to $1,000 per day for each subsequent violation at the same building. Mayor Eric Adams is seeking to increase fines for landlords who falsely report resolving safety violations involving self-closing doors.

Riegel says her co-op board is considering replacing its building’s roof and windows, which would reduce its carbon footprint. But, she adds, if the bill before the City Council becomes law and thermostats get turned up, “it certainly puts more pressure on what we would have to do to comply with the Climate Mobilization Act.”

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