Welcome to the Neighborhood: Part Three

After the record temperatures set in NYC this summer, the last thing many new tenants might be thinking about is a landlord’s duty to maintain heat in their apartments.  They might rather have the heat permanently shut off – or perhaps they’re currently petitioning for better access to air conditioning!

However, with Labor Day’s unofficial end to summer came a barely perceptible change in the air, just enough to remind all of us that the Summer of 2012 is on its way out, and fall is on its way in, with cooler temperatures.  The comfortable warmth of early September will give way to the long sleeves of early October and the fleece jackets of early November until, eventually, the first snow hits all of us like a ton of bricks.  Is last winter any indication?  Dare we hope that we can effectively miss two winters in a row?  Or will this winter sock the city like none other in retaliation?

Assuming that this winter will, at the very least, bring with it “normal” temperatures of between 25-50˚, it’s likely to get a bit chilly, especially in some of the older buildings in the city.  Since, as we previously discussed, insufficient heat is a breach of the warranty of habitability, landlords are required to provide heat to tenants during the colder months, specifically October 1 to May 31.  But just what does that mean?

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical.  A tenant has just moved to NYC from Miami.  She is not accustomed to long sleeves, and doesn’t care to be.  She likes her apartment maintained at a balmy 80˚ at all times, which she makes clear to her landlord upon signing the lease for an apartment in the city.

All is well until the tenant returns from Miami after Thanksgiving, when a cold snap hits the city with temperatures in the mid-30’s.  She is furious to find that her apartment temperature is a mere 70˚ when she gets in from the airport at 8:00 p.m.  What recourse does our tenant have?

Unfortunately, while New York City law requires landlords to provide “sufficient” heat in order for residences to be deemed “habitable,” this is not a subjective standard.  Tenants are not entitled to have heat maintained at whatever temperature they find most comfortable for them.  Between October 1 and May 31, between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., if the outside temperature falls below 55˚, every dwelling unit must be heated to a minimum temperature of 68˚; between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., if the outside temperature falls below 40˚, every dwelling unit must be heated to a minimum temperature of 55˚.  So, under these circumstances, 70˚ at 8:00 p.m., the landlord has provided adequate heat, and the tenant’s only recourse is to wear a sweater or buy a space heater (at her own expense), provided that this is not otherwise prohibited by law, regulation or contract.

Let’s say, however, that the tenant spends Christmas in Miami, and when she returns to her apartment from the airport at 11:00 p.m., the outside temperature is 30˚, and the temperature inside the apartment is 50˚.  What should the tenant do now?

In this case, the landlord is not supplying sufficient heat to the tenant’s apartment.  The first step is for the tenant to call the landlord and demand heat.  Even though it’s the holiday season, even though it’s late at night – CALL THE LANDLORD.  If the landlord does not respond promptly (say, within 2-3 hours), and the lack of heat is causing significant discomfort, then call 311 to speak with someone in the Citizen Service Center and to lodge a complaint.  Bureaucracy being a lumbering beast, it may take a while for the City to file a violation against the landlord, and longer still for the City to deem it necessary to procure emergency repair services from a private vendor.  In the meantime, if heat is not restored and the situation is profoundly uncomfortable or dangerous for the tenant, other remedies, such as an emergency court order, may need to be explored.

In the next part in this series, we’ll take another look at what happens when a unit needs repairs, and the landlord’s conduct leaves much to be desired.

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