New York State Tenement House Act

New York State Tenement House Act

New York State Tenement House Act

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One of the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901 was one of the first such laws to ban the construction of dark, poorly ventilated tenement buildings in the state of New York. Among other sanctions, the law required that new buildings must be built with outward-facing windows in every room, an open courtyard, indoor toilets and fire safeguards.

Early Tenement Acts

This was not the first time that New York State passed a public law that specifically dealt with housing reform. The First Tenement House Act (1867) required fire escapes and a window for every room, the Second Tenement House Act (1879) required that windows face a source of fresh air and light, not an interior hallway. An amendment of 1887 required privies interior to the building. The failures of the Second Act - the air shafts proved to be unsanitary as they filled with garbage, bilge water and waste—led to the 1901 "New Law" and its required courtyard designed for garbage removal.

Agitation for reform

Prior to these housing laws, most reform was undertaken by philanthropists and private individuals or organizations. This sequence of laws serves as an example of the Progressive belief that cleaner cities made better citizens. Jacob Riis, in his ground-breaking, muck-raking journalistic expose of 1890, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York attributes the reform movement to the fear of contagious disease emanating from the......
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