During the course of your residency in any NYC apartment, the time will probably come when something breaks, and needs to be repaired or replaced. Asking the landlord to do apartment maintenance is one of those facts of life of renting in New York. Usually, landlords will make reasonable repairs upon request, and everybody can go on with business as usual.
But what happens when the landlord or property management company drags their feet, or refuses outright to make those repairs? Unfortunately, this happens from time to time, and can create uncomfortable or downright dangerous conditions
Luckily for New York tenants, there are protections in place when it comes to the right to repairs. Here’s a run down.
New York has a law on the books called the Warranty of Habitability (also known as Real Property Law 235-b). According to this law, a unit has to be kept clean, safe, and decent by the landlord. This is true even when you don’t have a written lease, or if your lease attempts to sign away this responsibility. Fun fact: you are not legally allowed to sign away your right to the Warrant of Habitability, so any Court will ignore a clause in a lease that claims to do so.
Therefore, if the big stuff goes out–heat, AC, plumbing, gas, electricity–you are absolutely entitled to repairs by your landlord as soon as is possible. The Warranty of Habitability can also extend to the landlord’s responsibility for pest control. Unless you are actively creating a pest problem (i.e., if you hoard old garbage or have turned your living room into an ant farm), when critters show up, it is the landlord’s responsibility to get rid of them. The Warranty of Habitability applies to common spaces, too, This includes hallways, elevators, staircases, lobbies, doorways, basements, and any other space you are entitled to use as a tenant.
So, you have a repair you need the landlord to make, and you know you have the right to that repair. Now what?
- Notify, Notify, Notify: First things first, notify the landlord as soon as you know there’s a problem, and make sure your notification is in writing. Even if you’ve called or spoken to your landlord, super, or management company in person, make sure to confirm your notification in a written letter. Always keep copies of these notifications, and make sure to date them. Also, keep a running log of the problem and exactly when and where it is occurring, and how it is affecting you. For instance, if your access to hot water is spotty, record every time you can’t get the water to run warm. If the repair issue is visible, make sure to take and save pictures. When you send the notifications, it is best to do so by certified mail. This way, nobody can claim it was never sent or delivered.
If the landlord doesn’t respond to these notifications, or still stalls or refuses repairs, you have a few possible next steps.
2. Get 311 On The Line: One option is to call 311 and request an inspection. The city will send an inspector out, and the inspector will log all the violations. Violations are sorted into three categories: Class A (a non-hazardous issue, like a minor leak), Class B (a more serious but not as immediately life-threatening issue, like ants, roaches, mold, or a broken window or lock), and Class C (more immediately threatening to the Warranty of Habitability, like lack of heat, running water, or electricity). If the inspector does find violations, they will issue a Notice and Order. This is basically just a list of the violations and the time in which they need to be repaired. Depending on the type of violation, the landlord has between 24 hours and 90 days to correct the problem. If the violation is very severe, like a complete lack of heat in winter, the city may handle the repair and then bill the landlord, which fixes the problem for you.
In the face of a Notice and Order, some landlords comply and make the repairs. In any case, having the documentation that the violations existed in the first place is helpful moving forward. You may or may not receive a copy of the Notice and Order automatically. If you don’t, definitely pick one up at City Hall for your records. Landlords do not like receiving violation complaints, but if they are in fact in violation and refuse to make repairs, this is an option that is available to you.
3. DIY: Another option for smaller repairs is to do it yourself, or hire someone to do it, and then deduct the cost of the repairs from next month’s rent. If you do this, definitely make sure to specifically inform the landlord by written, certified letter that you intend to get the repairs taken care of and will deduct accordingly. Also, make sure to do a reasonable amount of research to figure out what an appropriate cost for the repairs/supplies would be, so that you’re not accused of overcharging. Keep all receipts, always. “Keep all receipts” is basically a mantra when it comes to dealing with landlords. It’s generally advisable to wait to go this route until you receive permission from your landlord to proceed–and if you receive that permission, ask for it explicitly, in writing. That way, the landlord cannot sue you for withholding rent.
By this point, most landlords will have caved and made the repairs, or will have allowed you to make them yourself. However, there are still those who, for whatever reason, will continue to hold out.
If you’re dealing with that sort of landlord, they will continue not to make the repairs, and will likely attempt to evict you for non-payment if you do the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from the rent. If that’s the case, there are a few last-ditch options.
4. Bring In The Big Dogs
You’re totally at the end of your rope. You’ve tried everything to get your landlord to make necessary repairs in the apartment, have documented the violations with the city, and have notified the landlord many times, but they won’t budge.
Your next step is to head to Housing Court, and file an HP Proceeding. These Proceedings can be filed pro se, meaning you don’t need a lawyer to handle them for you. Filing an HP Proceeding costs around $45.00, and can be brought on your own (if the issue is just in your apartment), or with other tenants (if the issue is, for instance, dangerous stairwells or a broken elevator.) Come ready with a complete record of all of your interactions with the landlord, all documentation about the violation, and all involvement and reports of City Inspectors.
Here’s a bona fide life hack for filing an HP Proceeding: file jointly against the landlord, for failing to comply with the law and fix the violation in the allotted time, AND against the City of New York, for failing to enforce the law.
The City will then send inspectors back to your apartment to confirm all violations, and return with their reports. If they confirm the violations, things should proceed as follows.
Once the case is scheduled to appear on the Court Calendar, the attorneys for the City will actually prosecute the case for you (as the suit is also being brought against them). Usually, these cases end with a Stipulation of Settlement, which will require the landlord to actually make the repairs in a specific time frame (either immediately, within 30 days, or within 90 days, depending on the violation.) If they fail to actually make the repairs, the Court can levy harsh fines against them, or even get them in legal trouble for contempt.
This move is obviously not going to endear you to your landlord, and will likely not put you in a very good bargaining position for lease renewal. However, taking a case to Housing Court is preferable to other extreme options (like just withholding rent) because an HP Action should not affect your ability to get an apartment in the future. If your landlord brings you to Court for withholding rent, that shows up on your record whether they win or lose. This way, you get your repairs without it messing with your life in the future.
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