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Introduction: What Can You Learn About a Building?
There is a relatively large amount of building information available for properties. This is especially true as, in recent years, the city has made a push to make data from various agencies accessible to the public. Many agencies now have portals to access information on their individual sites as well as on the city’s Open Data portal in tabular form.
There are three main categories of information available about a building: geographic & size, physical condition, and financial condition. Geographic and size information refers to the basic information about a building - where it is, how many units there are, etc. Information about the physical condition of a building can tell you whether or not the building is being maintained - is the boiler working, is there mold in tenants’ apartments, etc. Information about the financial condition of the building can give you some insight into the landlord’s operations - is there a lot of debt on the property, is there adequate money for needed repairs and maintenance, etc.
While it is exciting that this information is becoming accessible, it is always important to keep in mind the fact that no data is ever perfect. There can be many issues with available data - typos due to a data entry error, inaccurate information due to self reporting, etc. In other cases the data may be accurate, but need context in order to be accurately interpreted. For example, tenants can call in complaints about the condition of their buildings to 311. This is the first step of an HPD violation being issued. However, some tenants may feel uncomfortable calling 311 due to fear of their landlord finding out and retaliating. In this case there may not be many complaints or violations connected to a building despite it having serious issues that need remedying. Throughout this guide we will do our best to provide this context, but nothing can beat actually talking to the residents when trying to understand the information available about a building.
Also, while we believe that it is best to start off by only looking into a single building, if you find that the landlord in question owns multiple properties, doing some research on the entire portfolio will help you better understand what is happening. Landlords think in terms of their whole portfolio of buildings, as the finances of their different properties are, in practice, often intertwined. Additionally, landlords likely have a similar pattern of behavior, or business strategy, across their buildings. In other words, if they are neglecting repairs in one building and/or harassing tenants, they are likely doing the same in their other properties. Thinking through how a landlord treats their entire portfolio, then, can add important context about what might be going on in a specific building. See our Research a Portfolio Guide [LINK] for more on this.