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Repairs and Maintenance FAQ

General - Repairs & Maintenance
Superintendents
Painting

Distressed Buildings/7A Administrators
[Main FAQ Menu]

General - Repairs & Maintenance

Superintendent

Painting

Distressed Buildings/7A Administrators


Disclaimer: By providing answers to frequently asked questions, the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board attempts to clarify the often complex programs and regulations governing landlord-tenant relations in NYC. However, the information provided herein does not represent official policies or opinions of the City of New York or the Rent Guidelines Board nor should this information be used to substitute for advice of legal counsel.

In addition: The NYS Homes and Community Renewal's Office of Rent Administration (DHCR) also offers useful information on their own FAQ page as well as on their Forms and Information by Topic page.

• NYC.gov has a Buildings and Property FAQ that may provide useful answers.

• The New York Times regularly answers questions from rent stabilized tenants about various housing issues in their Ask Real Estate column.


What steps do I have to take to get my landlord to make repairs?

Under a provision of state law called the "Warranty of Habitability," tenants are entitled to an apartment fit for human habitation without any conditions endangering or detrimental to their life, health, or safety.

Consequently, all tenants, regardless of rent regulation status, are eligible to seek repairs and rent abatements for violations of this Warranty of Habitability. Note, however that your landlord may not be responsible for the COST of repairs if the defects were due to your negligence or the negligence or abuse of someone else in your household. Regardless of whether the landlord or the tenant is ultimately liable for the cost of a repair or maintenance defect, the owner is obligated to keep the premises in good repair.

If your apartment has defects and needs repairs, we generally advise renters to follow the following steps:

  • Contact your super about the needed repair.
  • If your superintendent or management company is not being responsive, and the repair has not been made in a timely manner, write a letter to the owner of the building detailing the problem and asking for the repair to be made by a certain date. If the super is simply lax about making repairs, this type of "prompt" to the owner may elicit action. Send the letter by certified mail (read your lease and be sure to follow the requirements for "notices" set forth in the lease) and keep a copy in your files.
  • If the letter does not bring a response, try to contact the owner in person or by phone. Let him know that resolving the problem is important and that if it is not resolved you will have to file a complaint with the authorities.

If the owner still does not respond you can do any (or a combination of) the following:

  • First, visit the nyc.gov webpage on Tenants' Rights or call 311 and ask for a housing inspection. HPD can order the landlord to make repairs and/or fine the landlord. A word of warning, however -- this process may take time unless the problem is urgent such as a loss of heat or hot water. Such problems receive a higher priority from HPD.
  • Make the needed repair yourself (or hire someone to do it) and deduct the cost from your rent. Be CERTAIN that the expense was necessary to correct a violation of the City's Housing Maintenance Code. Also, be careful to get bids for the work and to document both the needed repair and the costs. Bear in mind that this may result in litigation for non-payment of rent. You will need to justify your withholding. Before you take this approach it is wise to consult legal counsel.
  • If your apartment is rent-stabilized, file a complaint for "decreased services" with the the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the agency which administers the rent laws. In addition to filing on paper, you can file an individual apartment complaint of decreased services online. More information about decreased services is available in DHCR Fact Sheet #14.
  • In the case of maintenance problems that are severe, you should consider filing an HP Action in Housing Court. For more information on housing court in New York City, see our two resources on housing court here and here.

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Can I repair/improve my apartment myself?

Be careful to distinguish between a repair and an improvement/alteration. Most leases prohibit alterations to the apartment without the landlord’s permission. Also, a landlord is generally entitled to control repairs to an apartment. However, if you have notified the landlord of the need for a repair and s/he has failed to respond, making the repair yourself may be appropriate.

With respect to improvements/alterations, you may want to consider a few options:

  1. Approach the landlord with plans for the work and ask his/her permission to carry it out. Many landlords will refuse, since they won't have sufficient control over the construction and/or will not get any kind of rent increase if the work involves an improvement.

  2. Ask the landlord to make the improvements and agree to pay an increase in rent. The Rent Stabilization Law allows landlords to increase the rent by 1/40th (or 1/60th in buildings with more than 35 apartment units, effective Sept. 24, 2011) of the cost of qualifying apartment improvements. However, when the apartment is occupied the tenant must agree in writing to the improvements and the rent increase. For more information, see DHCR Fact Sheet #12.

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My air conditioner, originally included in the apartment, died and my landlord wants to replace it. Shouldn't s/he repair it?

A landlord is responsible for maintaining your air conditioner in operable condition. Whether s/he repairs the a/c unit or buys a new or used one is essentially his/her choice but s/he cannot increase your rent simply based on repair of the a/c unit or buying another unit. However, having said this, if you request a new a/c and sign the necessary papers, the landlord can increase your rent 1/40th (or 1/60th in buildings with more than 35 apartment units, effective Sept. 24, 2011) of the cost of the appliance, which remains part of your rent for the remainder of your tenancy. For more information, see DHCR Fact Sheet #12.

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How long should we be without our refrigerator until the landlord replaces it?

There is no specific regulation on the amount of time a stabilized tenant may be without his or her refrigerator as long as the owner makes a good faith effort to replace that service. You should be aware of the following:

  1. The landlord must repair a broken or faulty appliance that was provided in the lease when you rented the unit or replace it with a unit of the same type or quality if it cannot be repaired for no extra rent charge. If you allow him to put in a new unit, you may be charged for an Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI), where 1/40th the cost of the improved unit is added permanently to your monthly rent (or 1/60th in buildings with more than 35 apartment units, effective Sept. 24, 2011).

    So, you may wish to ask for a replacement unit of the same quality or for the current fridge to be repaired if you don't want to pay additional rent. The owner must give you a unit that is the same quality as the one provided for in the lease, not a lesser unit.


  2. The lack of a refrigerator may constitute a violation of your warranty of habitability and/or a reduction of services, so you may want to file a reduction in services complaint with the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the agency which administers the rent laws.

For additional information on how to deal with getting repairs accomplished, visit our Apartment Guide section on Maintenance advice.

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Recent repairs were not sufficient! What can I do?

There are a number of things you can do, assuming that you don't want to throw in the towel and move. Try these things in the order listed:

  1. Write a letter to the landlord describing all the repairs that need to be made. Be sure to say that you have made many requests in the past and nothing has been done. Ask him to correct the problems immediately. Check your lease to ensure that the letter is sent in accordance with the notice provisions in your lease - usually by certified mail.

  2. If the landlord does not make the repairs in a reasonable amount of time, you can do one or more of the following:

    First, visit the nyc.gov webpage on Tenants' Rights or call 311 and ask for a housing inspection.

    Second, for items that you can repair (or have a handyman repair) you can get these things fixed and deduct the amount from the rent. Make sure the charges are reasonable and that you keep receipts. This may prompt a court action by your landlord so you may want to consult with an attorney before taking this course.

    Third, for items you can do nothing about (e.g. the heat) you could file an action in housing court called an "HP" action in housing court, basically asking the court to get involved and force the landlord to make repairs. These proceedings are fairly simple and are often filed without a lawyer. It is always better, of course, to have a lawyer. For more information on housing court in New York City, see our two resources on housing court here and here.

  3. Simply withholding some or all of your rent may prompt a corrective action. This, however, is a risky strategy. We would not advise withholding rent until you have exhausted other remedies. If you withhold rent there is no guarantee that the problems you have will be remedied. In addition, withholding rent may simply make things more difficult with the landlord and land you in housing court, if the landlord decides to file an eviction action. If you are not successful in justifying your decision to withhold rent and your lease has an "attorneys fees" clause, you may be forced to pay your landlord’s legal expenses. In any case, you should know that it is rare for a warranty of habitability claim to result in a 100% rent abatement. If you withhold rent, consider withholding only a part of the rent commensurate with the severity of the problem. For example, for a lack of hot water, you may want to only withhold only 20% of the rent. This will help ensure that you are more likely to prevail on the merits in a non-payment proceeding. If you prevail, you may be entitled to your attorneys fees. Before you withhold rent, it is strongly advised that you consult with a lawyer.

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Do we have the right to install a new sink in our stabilized apartment?

Most leases prohibit alterations without prior permission of the landlord. If you request that an appliance or fixture be replaced with a new one, the owner may be entitled to a rent increase equal to 1/40th (or 1/60th in buildings with more than 35 apartment units, effective Sept. 24, 2011) of the cost of the new equipment, including installation costs, but not including finance charges. Take a look at DHCR Fact Sheet #12.

If the current sink is in disrepair, you may demand that the landlord make the repairs.

Try taking the steps we recommend for getting repairs completed in our Apartment Guide section with maintenance advice.

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My building is a mess! Are there rules regarding the time and duration of construction?

The owner of the building should have a building permit for the work. Generally, permits specify the allowable hours of work. The NYC Department of Buildings is charged with enforcing the terms of the building permit. You can call the Department of Buildings to make sure a permit was issued and to determine what the allowable hours of work are. If the company is not abiding by the terms of the permit you should document the company's infractions and present this evidence to the Buildings Department.

Naturally, construction is a messy job, so you can reasonably expect somewhat dirtier conditions. However, if the building is a real mess and no effort is being made to clean up, or if you believe that the construction is resulting in exposure to hazardous materials, you should immediately contact the Buildings Department.

You can also file an "Application for a Rent Reduction Based Upon Decreased Building-Wide Services" (DHCR Form RA-84) with the NYS Division of Housing & Community Renewal, the state agency which administers the rent laws (718-739-6400). (Information is contained in DHCR Fact Sheet #14.) You can try and argue that prolonged noise and dirt in the building constitutes a failure by the landlord to provide adequate services and that you should receive some sort of rent reduction or other relief.

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Does the law require a Super to live in my building?

In apartment buildings with 9 or more units the landlord must either:

  • Provide janitorial/superintendent services himself, if s/he lives in the building;
  • Provide a super who lives in the building, within 200 ft. of the building, or within one block of the building, whichever is greater;
  • Provide for janitorial services to be available on a 24-hour basis.

In short, a super need not live in the building, but if s/he does not the owner must make adequate provision for superintendent services. The name of the building owner, or super, or janitorial company (i.e. whoever provides janitorial services) must be posted in your lobby along with a telephone number for 24 hour contact.

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Can the Super enter my apartment when I'm not there to make repairs?

If the repair is a severe emergency, and waiting to make it would have caused damage in the building or endangered others, then a super may enter the apartment to make repairs. However, in the absence of a clear emergency - such as a gas leak or water cascading through your floor into the apartment below - no one can enter your apartment without your permission.

Of course, if you have personal property missing or damage was done you may have a claim against the super and/or the owner.

Tenants in multiple dwellings can install and maintain their own locks on their apartment entrance doors in addition to the lock supplied by the landlord. The lock may be no more than three inches in circumference, and tenants must provide their landlord with a duplicate key upon request. Note that "double cylinder" locks (with keys removable from the inside) are unlawful. Nearly every year in NYC tenants die in fires because they cannot locate the inside key for a double cylinder lock in a smoke filled apartment. Such locks are AN EXTREME HAZARD and should never be installed.

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What are the rules for painting apartments?

The New York City Housing Maintenance Code requires that: In occupied dwelling units in a multiple dwelling, the owner shall:

  • Paint or cover the walls and ceilings with wallpaper or other acceptable wall covering; and
  • Repaint or re-cover the walls and ceilings with wallpaper or other acceptable wall covering every three years, and more often when required by contract or other provisions of law.

To see the entire text, visit the Housing Maintenance Code article on painting on our site. According to the the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the state agency that administers the rent laws, the cost of painting can only be passed on to the tenant if they request something special (like a particular brand or color), or if the tenant caused damage to the unit requiring the need to paint.

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What is a 7A Administrator?

Typically, a 7A administrator is appointed after a judge determines that a building contains conditions "dangerous to life, health or safety" which the building owner has failed to remedy. A 7A administrator may be appointed after the petition of 1/3 of the tenants in the building or if the City's Department of Housing Preservation & Development asks the courts to appoint an administrator. The administrator basically takes control of the building from the owner and uses the rents to remedy dangerous conditions in the building.

Buildings with 7A administrators are typically in very poor physical condition. However, if the 7A administrator does his/her job, the building can be brought back to good (if not excellent) condition. The removal of an administrator may mean one of two things: 1) The administrator is not doing his/her job correctly; or 2) The administrator has successfully completed his/her job and the building no longer needs his/her assistance. Obviously, you would have to check to see which is the case. For more information, call the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development by dialing (212) 863-7392 or see HPD's 7A Management webpage.

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The owner does not make repairs and has virtually abandoned the building - What is the process for taking over our building?

Before you initiate any action to "take over" the building, first:

  1. Talk with the landlord about the problems in the building;
  2. Contact the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development and arrange for a housing/building inspection by dialing 311;
  3. File an HP action in Housing Court.

If you have gone down these roads before and your landlord is simply not responding, you can file a "7A" action in housing court. One-third or more of the tenants in your building must ask the court to take control of the building away from the landlord and give it to an administrator who is supervised by the court. If you win, the administrator collects the rent and makes repairs.

For more information on housing court in New York City, see our two resources on housing court here and here.

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In what circumstances can the City manage a building?

A building is generally taken over by the City in two instances; the owner does not pay property taxes or he/she abandons the building. All City-owned residential buildings are run by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

Under their 7A Program the building remains privately owned, but administrators are appointed by the Court because of abandonment resulting in conditions that are dangerous to the tenants' life, health and safety. The administrators act under Court Order to collect rents and use the money to provide essential services to the tenants and make necessary repairs. A recent change in the program seeks to ensure uniformly competent management by selecting experienced housing organizations, rather than individuals, to provide 7A management services.

In some 7A buildings, HPD offers a limited amount of 7A Financial Assistance (7AFA) funds to make major systems and other repairs. HPD monitors the activities of 7A administrators and administers the 7AFA loan program.

Tenants who feel that their building may need a 7A administrator should contact HPD by dialing (212) 863-7392.

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Disclaimer: By providing answers to frequently asked questions, the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board attempts to clarify the often complex programs and regulations governing landlord-tenant relations in NYC. However, the information provided herein does not represent official policies or opinions of the City of New York or the Rent Guidelines Board nor should this information be used to substitute for advice of legal counsel.

In addition: The NYS Homes and Community Renewal's Office of Rent Administration (DHCR) also offers useful information on their own FAQ page as well as on their Forms and Information by Topic page.

• NYC.gov has a Buildings and Property FAQ that may provide useful answers.

• The New York Times regularly answers questions from rent stabilized tenants about various housing issues in their Ask Real Estate column.

 

RGB Page Updated 8/23/17


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