By Sabina Mollot
Last Tuesday, the City Council voted to make the results of buildings’ water tank inspections more readily accessible after many years of those records being kept private.
The bill was sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, who, in 2006, authored another piece of legislation that required annual inspections of water tanks. The bill also required landlords to make the results of those inspections available to the city upon request for the next five years. It was signed into law in 2009.
Under the new legislation however, the results of the inspections would have to be submitted to the Department of Health and entered into a searchable, publicly available online database on the DOH’s website. The data would also be submitted annually to the City Council.
Garodnick said the issue was first flagged to him by then-Assembly Member Steven Sanders, who left office in 2006.
“Back then members of the public were barred from seeing the results, even if they had a subpoena,” said Garodnick. “Those reports should not be treated like state secrets.”
So, he introduced the first piece of legislation, which also called for proof of the inspection to be placed prominently at the buildings.
However, even after it was passed, Garodnick came to learn that the law was getting routinely violated.
“In time we watched to see what would happen,” he said, “and too few buildings were able to provide proof that they had an inspection and most were failing to place notices. More than $700 thousand in fines were imposed on building owners for failing to comply.”
He decided to push for more enforcement, including the online database, however, after reading a story in the New York Times about water tank contamination that was published in 2014. An investigation by the paper revealed that even buildings where tanks were being maintained would sometimes contain E. coli and other disease-causing bacteria and parasites. Because E. coli is a microbe found in the feces of mammals and birds, its presence meant that animals were somehow finding their way inside the water tanks.
Garodnick said his legislation wasn’t motivated by any particular property in the district though.
The bill affects all buildings with a water tank as part of the drinking water supply.
Garodnick said he isn’t expecting any opposition to the bill from the real estate industry since no one testified against it at a hearing held on October 24.
A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio didn’t get back to us on his thoughts on the bill, but according to a spokesperson for Garodnick, the mayor is expected to pass it. On Monday, the mayor attended a meeting regarding a few pieces of legislation, including this one.