311 ignoring our complaints. What to do?
January 8, 2011 11:44 AM   Subscribe

What to do if 311 is not responding?

Last month I asked a question on what to do when my parents' apartment is not getting heated (http://ask.metafilter.com/173423/What-is-the-legal-way-to-record-room-temperature). We're in NYC. Most overwhelming response was to call 311 and they would deal with it. We've decided to take that advice and call 311 for help.

Since then, 311 have been *ignoring* our calls. We file complaints about cold in the apartment on daily basis. Those complaints get closed after a few days with a message "tenant has been contacted and issue corrected." However, nobody ever contacts us and the issue is NOT corrected - there's still no heat. When I call 311 and yell at them, get a supervisor, explain to them the situation - there's a bunch of apologies, promise to look into it - and same result - nothing. My father has a theory that the building owner has bribed 311 inspectors.

Meanwhile, my parents are still very cold and sick, all the time. We're looking for a different apartment for them, but it takes time, and is expensive... Any ideas of what to do next? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
posted by zavulon to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you call your (their) local council member's office? They have staff who are paid to help deal with this stuff. You can find out who that is here.
posted by rtha at 11:49 AM on January 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would contact their councilperson. Plug in your parents address here. I know people who have done this, and their issues were resolved super fast. Of course, my Council Person loves any opportunity to go on the news and talk about stuff like this (which isn't necessarily a bad thing when stuff needs to get done.)
posted by AlisonM at 11:50 AM on January 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Call your elected representatives. City council, House, Senate, mayor's office, borough president, etc. If 311 operators are not doing their jobs, these government officials are supposed to hold them accountable. But perhaps more relevantly, these offices have staff members whose job is to ensure that constituents get prompt access to city services. Get the names of any 311 operators and supervisors you talk to, and report those names to the political offices.
posted by decathecting at 11:51 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of ideas! First thing to do would be to contact their local councilperson. They (should) want to know problems that are happening in their district. If that fails, maybe your parents should go for a consultation with a lawyer. Is this happening to other building tenants or just your parents? If its happening to other tenants then I suppose everyone could split the costs.

SeeClickFix is a pretty new site but its designed for situations like your parents'. Councilpeople can see the problem, click on it, and fix it.
posted by lovelygirl at 12:00 PM on January 8, 2011

When you call 311 in NYC and register a complaint, you are supposed to be informed that you can opt to get a letter stating that the complaint was addressed, or what action was taken.

I know this from personal experience; we called about repeated noise violations from a restaurant, and got a notification in the mail that the cops had gone by (at 5 am, when they reported hearing no noise).

Call again and tell 311 that you want to be sent confirmation of your complaint.
posted by dubold at 1:10 PM on January 8, 2011

Does 311 NYC have a Twitter account? I was dealing with 311 in Toronto and phone calls and emails weren't being returned as promised, so I publicly tweeted 311 TO a polite "Hey, what's happening with X situation? Why isn't someone following up as promised?" message. I had contact within an hour from the person manning the Twitter account (and this was at 10 p.m.) and an answer to my question by 9 a.m. the next morning.

YMMV, obviously, but it may be worth a try if 311 NYC is on Twitter (and you have an account as well). And at the very least, it's something you can try that takes very little time while you pursue other suggestions.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 2:15 PM on January 8, 2011

Until you get hold of them, spend $100 and get them a space heater so that they're at least comfortable while you're working this mess out. Good luck!
posted by lemniskate at 3:05 PM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

First, start helping your parents maintain a temperature log right away -- measure the temperature inside the apartment once between 6 AM and 10 PM each day, and once between 10PM and 6AM each day. Next to each entry, note the outside temperature at the time of the measurement. You can use current weather conditions for the outside temperature, and an ordinary thermometer for the inside temperature. Here's what the temperature should be in those windows.

If 311 is not helping you, sue their landlord. It's what's called an HP action, and there are detailed instructions on how to start one against the landlord here. Make sure the clerk notes that the violation is a heating violation, which is an emergency condition in New York City, and which will get them a quicker court date. When they go to court for their first court date, make sure they take the temperature log they've been maintaining with them to show to the judge.

Good luck.
posted by lassie at 10:39 AM on January 10, 2011

Sorry, I meant to also say, I'm not your lawyer, nor your parent's lawyer and nothing in my original comment is meant to be legal advice, but is all stuff you can find on the internet.
posted by lassie at 10:43 AM on January 10, 2011

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