Blog: A Brief Guide to Building Research in NYC

By Philip Sutton, Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History & Genealogy, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of  the New York Public Library, October 14, 2011.

The New York Public Library’s Milstein Division is home to one of the largest free United States history, local history, and genealogy collections in the country, and many of the library’s patrons are writing their family histories. Many reference questions pertain to building histories, especially in the light of genealogy. Afterall, those ancesters lived somewhere, and it’s natural to wonder what it was like where they lived.

Sometimes patrons are curious about the buildings they live in, when the buildings were built, and by whom. They might wonder, “Who lived in my apartment building?,” “What were they like?,” and “What were their lives like?” The library gets these type of questions so often, they put together a brief guide to the kinds of materials that you might use to research a New York City building’s history. 

Cooling Assistance for Vulnerable New Yorkers

Air conditioners are the best way to stay safe during a heatwave. Did you know that some NYC households might be eligible for a free air conditioner purchase and installation worth up to $800? Applications for cooling assistance are accepted at local departments of social services until funding runs out. Assistance is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. New York City HEAP contacts, Department of Social Services: Waverly Job Center, 12 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor, 212-331-3126, Days Open: Monday – Friday (9am – 5pm), Face to Face/Drop Box. Learn more at otda.ny.gov/programs/heap/#cooling-assistance

Department of Buildings Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA)

The Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA), established by Local Law 161 of 2017, serves as a resource to tenants who are affected by work in occupied multiple family dwellings. Tenants may contact OTA with comments, questions and complaints concerning construction in occupied multiple family dwellings. Tenants may also contact OTA if they have questions or concerns related to Tenant Protection Plans.

DRIE Disability Rent Increase Exemption Program

The NYC Rent Freeze Program, which includes the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) Program and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) Program, helps those eligible to stay in affordable housing by freezing their rent.

Under this program, a property tax credit covers the difference between the actual rent amount and what you (the tenant) are responsible for paying at the frozen rate.

Need Help Due to a Disability?

Your time to submit a renewal application may be extended for up to six months if you were hospitalized or your apartment was damaged by fire, flood, or a natural catastrophe during the time to file your renewal. If you need help accessing Department of Finance programs and services because of a disability, you can request additional time to submit your application as a reasonable accommodation. If you need help or have questions, please contact 311 or visit nyc.gov/contactscrie or nyc.gov/contactdrie 

Forms for landlords:


Heat Season Rules

The City Housing Maintenance Code and State Multiple Dwelling Law require building owners to provide heat and hot water to all tenants. Building owners are required to provide hot water 365 days a year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Between October 1st and May 31st, a period designated as “Heat Season,” building owners are also required to provide tenants with heat under the following conditions:

– Between the hours of 6am and 10pm, if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

– Between the hours of 10pm and 6am the inside temperature is required to be at least 62 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no longer any outside temperature requirement during these hours.

Tenants who are cold in their apartments should first attempt to notify the building owner, managing agent, or superintendent. If heat is not restored, the tenant should call the City’s Citizen Service Center at 311. For the hearing-impaired, the TTY number is 212-504-4115. The Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Housing Connect Portal for affordable housing lottery applications

The City’s Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development has opened a new Housing Connect Portal for affordable housing lottery applications https://housingconnect.nyc.gov/PublicWeb. An important note: account profiles from the prior Housing Connect site WILL NOT carry over; you must visit the site to make a new account. Learn more at www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/services-and-information/housing-connect-rentals.page.

Map of affordable housing lotteries www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/index.page.

If you need emergency heating assistance in cold weather

The Human Resources Administration (HRA) administers the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which can help low-income renters and homeowners with heating bills and other energy expenses. HEAP can help with: – Regular heating bills from a variety of heat sources (even if heat is included in your rent or you live in subsidized housing) – Emergency payments to keep you from losing your heat – Replacing damaged furnaces, boilers and heating units Eligibility for HEAP is based on your household income, family size and energy costs. If you are homebound and need help with your heating bills, you can call the NYC Heat Line at 212-331-3150 to arrange a home visit. For more information, call 311.

Illegal renting of apartments for less than 30 days

April 7, 2017, New York Times, “Making a Living With Airbnb,” by James Dobbins.
Most airbnb listings are illegal, according to the State Attorney General. NYS Multiple Dwellings Law covers buildings with 3 or more units and prohibits transient rentals of fewer than 30 days at a time unless the owner is present. Lease agreements for market rate renters and coop owners usually prohibit subletting without permission from landlord or coop board. Hosts in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments may have restrictions on subletting. Subletting may lead to eviction.

New York State has a law targeting advertising of illegal listings on sites like airbnb. Penalties may be imposed on the host. Hosts must follow the New York City building codes. They may need zoning or occupancy certificate changes to convert a property from long term housing to a hotel. Upgrades may be needed. Local municipality taxes must be collected from guests.

From New York State Senator Liz Krueger’s website:
Answers for New Yorkers Concerned or Confused About the Illegal Hotel Law. 

What is illegal hotel activity? When permanent residential apartments in buildings with three units or more are rented out for less than 30 days to transient visitors instead of residents, that’s illegal hotel activity. Illegal hotel operations can range from one unit, to a few units here and there, to large-scale operations, with dozens or even hundreds of units converted to full-time illegal hotel use.

The…law does not apply to owners of single-family and two-family homes, or residents who rent out individual rooms in their homes for less than 30 days (as long as they are also there the entire time)…[T]he vast majority of rental leases, as well as most co-op and condo bylaws, do not allow tenants to rent out their apartments without first obtaining permission from their landlords or coop/condo board. This means that landlords (and many coop and condo buildings) can initiate eviction cases against those who are engaged in illegal hotel activity.

Update July 24, 2023

Prohibited Building List

New York City landlords are adding thousands of addresses to a list that will keep tourists from crashing in their apartment buildings under a new anti-Airbnb law. The measure allows property owners and managers to register on a “Prohibited Building List” confirming short-term rental bans as a condition of their tenants’ lease or residency agreements, forcing Airbnb and other platforms to block listings at the address. See the map of prohibited buildings: gothamist.com/news/is-airbnb-allowed-in-your-building-our-map-shows-which-nyc-addresses-ban-the-rentals.

Met Council – Manhattan Fulfillment Center and Food Pantry

171 Lexington Avenue (between 30th & 31st Street), New York, NY 10016


The Met Council Manhattan Fulfillment Center provides free monthly groceries to anyone in need of food, while recognizing the importance of providing culturally competent food for kosher and halal requiring communities. Once enrolled, you can place your order online and book an appointment for pickup at the Manhattan Fulfillment Center. Clients select from a range of kosher food, including fresh protein and dairy products, fresh produce, and shelf stable pantry staples.

Open pantry hours are between 1 – 3pm on Wednesday afternoons, by appointment only. Please call the pantry at 917-841-1250 or email fulfillmentcenter@metcouncil.org to enroll. With their online ordering system, you can order your monthly food order remotely and they will prepare it in advance of pickup.

Met Council is America’s largest Jewish charity dedicated to serving the needy. In the fight against poverty, they serve immigrants, seniors living on fixed incomes, the un- and underemployed and anyone else in need. An organization founded on Jewish values, they serve everyone with dignity and empathy, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, using a strengths based approach that empowers their clients to confront their crises. Caseworkers conduct a thorough assessment with the client to create an effective intervention plan and develop a resolution.  They maintain a “no wrong door” policy, serving all of a client’s needs, regardless of the point of entry to Met Council. This holistic approach addresses both immediate and lasting needs in a client’s fight against poverty.

New York State web app that helps you find services, from one place

The “Find Services” web application was developed by New York State in partnership with Google.org, to assist New Yorkers in locating appropriate services with one streamlined web application.This application provides an easy-to-use starting point for first-time program users. You begin by answering a few questions about yourself.