Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reader mailbag: Should we receive a rent abatement for having sporadic heat and hot water?

From the EVG reader mailbag (which I had to pick up at the F.D.R. Station at East 54th Street and Third Avenue):

My roommate and I pay a small fortune for our East Village walk-up. Unfortunately, the boiler in our building breaks down with great frequency, leaving us with no heat or hot water for 24 hour periods of time, every two weeks. Our super is unavailable, and when I call my landlord he refuses to give us a rent abatement. Is there anything else we can do?

Anyone? (Preferred answers do not include "If you want heat and hot water, then move to...")


We often get reader queries ... asking for help with, say, donating clothes or books ... or finding an East Village-based caterer... If you have a question for the masses, then try the EV Grieve email...

Previously on EV Grieve:
Reader mailbag: Places to eat that have that old East Village vibe (45 comments)

Reader mailbag: What do I do about my new neighbors who smoke pot all the time? (52 comments)

Reader mailbag: Where is a good place to get a cup of coffee in the East Village before 6 a.m.? (25 comments)

Reader mailbag: What has happened to the Cooper Station Post Office? (41 comments)

Reader mailbag: Can the landlord 'drill' the lock to gain access to my apartment for simple repairs? (15 comments)


Anonymous said...

I think it is worth it to contact a real estate attorney to get an answer to this question. It does seem to me like you should be compensated for the lack of services, especially given that this happens regularly. Find a few names online and call and see how much it would be to come in for one meeting. I don't have a lot of money, but when I lived in Philly, I had an issue with my landlord, and I was able to find a lawyer who charged me an affordable fee to write a letter to my landlord. That letter cleared up my situation and was worth the money I spent to get it written. Good luck!

Gojira said...

You can also try calling MFY Legal Services, they are a housing rights organization with lawyers, (212) 417-3700.

Anonymous said...

The more practical approach is to apply pressure through the city. Every time you lack heat or hot water, file a 311 complaint. Try to get the city to respond quickly so they can fine the building. That's the only incentive for the landlord to do anything to remedy the problem.

As far as attorney's go in this situation, billing $250 or $350 an hour, their fees will instantaneously exceed any rent rebate you might achieve. Attorney's are useful if you're suing the landlord for large amounts, and have a legitimate case that you're willing to endure the legal bills to pursue.

Good luck, nobody should live without heat or hot water.

blue glass said...

you should file a complaint with 311
you should keep a list of when you have no heat or hot water
then you should start a paper trail
you can write the landlord yourself, you do not need an attorney for that
list the times you have no heat and/or hot water and say that this is a reduction in services, a breach of the warranty of habitability, and then you have several choices in how you end your letter.
you can say:
nothing more;
that you will withhold your rent and you will not pay your rent until you have consistent heat and/or hot water;
you can choose an amount (say 1/30th of the rent) and deduct the amount of the number of days without heat and/or hot water and will be deducting this amount for lack of services;
you can say you will contact an attorney
just remember that if you are a market rate tenant your landlord does not have to renew your lease at the end of the current lease

you can also call metropolitan council on housing one of the listed housing groups, new york state division of housing and community renewal and even your elected officials. there are tons of books and pamphlets on tenants' rights (even from, i think the governor's office and the attorney general)
good luck, this is a pain in the ass

nygrump said...

Whatever you do, don't start withholding rent. If you are market you might have more leverage.

Anonymous said...

...start a tenant organization in your building. strength in numbers. 24 calls to 311 have more weight than two calls. write to the landlord from the organization asking for a solution such as installing a new boiler.
contact HPD. there is no excuse for this.

RJJNY said...

In addition to reporting lack of heat & hot water to 311, you can report the boiler being defective:

Inspectors will come out, and if they find faults the city will schedule a hearing with the landlord about getting it fixed. They get fined if they don't show up.

Gojira said...

MFY is usually pro bono. But if you do decide to withhold rent, you MUST put it in a special escrow account reserved for nothing but that, so if you have to go to court you can show the judge that you have the money and were willing to pay it had you had the services you are legally entitled to.

Anonymous said...

Contact Good Old Lower East Side: GOLES at, 212 358 1231. They're East Village organization that work with these kind of issues all the time.

Anonymous said...

I remember when i lived in rent stabilized apartment
every winter like clockwork on friday night the heat would go out . Noone would be around the management company to get the complaint as it was the weekend but miraculously on sunday night the heat would return

Imagine the cost savings only heating a building 5 days a week in the winter

Feel Your Pain said...

My neighbors and I have been in HPD court and Environmental Control Board (the enforcement arm of the DEP) for 2.5 years for leaks, harassment (from the commercial tenant), and noise issues. We also have the *joy* of no heat or hot water intermittently. We are rent stabilized, so we have some security there when we make complaints that the landlord has to renew our leases. You should consult the legal advice department on the ground floor of 111 Centre Street--they can help you decide the best way to handle this. If you're not rent stabilized, it could mean the landlord jacks up your rent when the lease comes due to get back at you...anyway, 111 Centre Street can help. (I don't want to bad mouth GOLES, but they were a deadend, waste of time for us...)

From what we learned, DO NOT WITHHOLD RENT. The landlord then can take action against you. If they have more than one building, they probably have a lawyer on retainer--it's not big deal for them to file against you.

The other comments that tell you to start a paper trail, call 311, make a boiler complaint online, etc. are solid. However the 311 inspectors never get there before the heat is turned back on, in our experience. But still, having your neighbors call each time is a great idea, those calls are logged and can be tracked eventually should you need them. Though we have found that the emails we sent the landlord have had the most weight with the HPD judge.

When we went to the DHRC for a rent abatement, with detailed documentation--emails and pictures of massive leak damage and all the DEP reports on boiler and the ground floor commercial tenant's noise (still going on), we were turned down. The landlord fixed the massive amount of debris that was on our floor for months and the hanging ceiling bits just before the DHRC inspection (which was like 4 months later after our filing). Despite our DEP documentation, the DHRC said it would not give us a rent abatement for the noise either. It is outrageous what landlords are allowed to get away with.

FYI--HPD helps you get things fixed, no rent abatement via this agency
DHRC does the rent abatements but without extended periods of time and documentation, highly unlikely you'll get one.
Small Claims Court--You can get a settlement via these courts using the detailed paper trail mentioned above if it's under $5,000. You have to file in the city in which the landlord's address is. (We haven't followed through on this because our landlord is in West Chester.) No lawyer needed for Small Claims.
Civil Court is another option but I don't recall the restrictions on this...

Anyway, as mentioned before, I suggest going to the legal advice place at 111 Centre St...we worked with Lauren a couple times because our case was so wonky (noise issues seem to be a black hole in NYC) with so many facets, and she was helpful. It's a long haul to go through the courts.

If you make a complaint about the boiler, you may want to say you smell burning or something like that to make it more urgent. I hate to suggest lying but we've been to court approximately 20 times (!) for hearings and there are more to go, it's a huge time suck, so if you can get action sooner, it's better. Sounds like you've already suffered enough...