1. THE LANDLORD IS RESPONSIBLE FOR REPAIRS
Landlords are responsible for providing apartments in good condition. This means that they must provide heat, hot water, functional plumbing, adequate security (proper lighting, peepholes, mirrors in elevators, proper door locks & keys, etc.), smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, a clean environment (landlords must keep common areas clean – it is your own responsibility to clean your apartment), pest extermination, trash collection, lead paint removal, etc.
2. CALL 311 TO COMPLAIN.
For serious conditions (for example, no heat or hot water), try to contact your landlord, and then call 311 right away. For emergency conditions (for example, a gas leak), call 911 immediately.
3. MAKE A LIST AND TAKE PICTURES.
For all other types of problems, make a thorough list of necessary repairs in your apartment or the public areas of the building. Take pictures of the problem areas if you can.
4. CALL THE SUPER.
Inform the superintendant that repairs are needed. In most buildings, there should be a super on call 24 hours a day for emergency repairs.
5. CALL THE LANDLORD.
If the super does not help, call your landlord & inform him/her that you need repairs. You should also inform your landlord in writing, and include the date, your name, your apartment number, your phone number, and a description of the problem(s). You may also describe your attempts to address the situation with the super. Mail this letter by certified mail, and keep a copy of the letter. A landlord who is not informed of the problem cannot correct the problem, and in the event you decide to sue for repairs, you must be able to show housing court that you told the landlord about the problem. If you mail more than one letter, keep copies of all of them, as well as any correspondence you receive - it is very important to keep detailed records!
6. JOIN YOUR NEIGHBORS.
For problems which affect multiple tenants (for example, a lack of hot water), it is helpful to get as many tenants as possible to sign the letter to the landlord, or send the letter from the tenants’ association if possible.
7. ALLOW REASONABLE ACCESS.
Make sure you make your apartment available to the landlord or super at reasonable times – if they cannot enter your apartment, they cannot fix your problem. Note that landlords will have a good defense in court if they were unable to get into your apartment to do the repairs.
8. GET HPD TO ISSUE VIOLATIONS.
If the repairs have still not been made, you may call 311 to complain to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and to schedule an inspection. Remember, a landlord cannot evict you for complaining about poor conditions. If it is a building-wide problem, ask your neighbors to call 311 as well. Please note that tenants of public housing cannot make use of 311 for this purpose. Based on your 311 call, HPD will contact the landlord, to inform them that a complaint has been filed.
9. GO TO COURT.
If the repairs are still not done and the problem persists, the next step is to take your landlord to court. To do so, you must go to the clerk’s office in Housing Court, and tell them you want to start a Housing Preservation (HP) case. There is a fee for starting a case, but the fee may be waived if you cannot afford to pay it. You will have to fill out some forms, and then serve your landlord and the city with copies of those forms. Please see the housing court website for more detailed instructions on how to file an HP claim:
10. PREPARE YOUR EVIDENCE.
Remember, keep copies of all the letters you have sent or received, and take pictures of the areas that need to be repaired. Talk to your neighbors – they may be willing to serve as witnesses to substantiate your claims. The better your evidence, the better your chances are of success! You may also search the HPD website for open complaints, violations, and registration information on your building, using HPDONLINE:
11. HOLD THE RENT?
Under New York’s Warranty of Habitability law, you are not required to pay full rent for periods of time when you are not getting the repairs to which you are entitled. You may choose to withhold rent during such a period, but you must first consider whether this is your best option. Withholding rent may motivate your landlord to make the repairs, which is the optimal result. However, your landlord may choose to sue you for nonpayment instead of doing the repairs. If this happens, you will need all the same documentation as you would for an HP action, so keep copies of all letters and photos. And remember to save those withheld payments! If you lose in court, you will have to pay back that money or risk being evicted. Please note that withholding rent may result in your name being put on a tenant screening list, and it is advisable to get legal advice before making this decision.
12. FILE A COMPLAINT WITH HCR?
Rent stabilized tenants who wish to withhold rent must first file a complaint with the New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). DHCR has the power to order a rent reduction or rent freeze for rent stabilized apartments until the landlord corrects the problem. For emergency repairs, a DHCR complaint may be filed immediately. For all other repairs, you must first send your landlord a letter complaining about the problem, and wait ten days after sending this letter before filing a complaint with DHCR. If DHCR orders a rent reduction or rent freeze, the landlord will either make the repairs, or sue you for nonpayment. If you are sued, you will need all the same documentation as you would for an HP action, so keep copies of all letters and photos. Remember – save the withheld rental payments! If the DHCR order is overturned, you will have to pay back that money to your landlord or risk being evicted. Please note that withholding rent will result in your name being put on a tenant blacklist, and it is advisable to get legal advice before making this decision.