Real Estate

I Already Took My Landlord to Court Over Heat Problems. What Now?

Q: For over a decade, I have had inadequate heat in my apartment in an affordable-housing complex in Hell’s Kitchen. Sometimes, I don’t have any heat at all. My neighbors on the same line also have this problem. I took the landlord to housing court in 2018 and the judge ordered them to provide heat. Instead, the landlord gave me a space heater, so my electric bill spiked, and I had to pay it. I took them to court again in 2019, and another judge ordered them to fix the heat. But I still don’t have any. What can I do?

A: In New York City, landlords are required to provide heat from Oct. 1 through May 31. From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., if outdoor temperatures fall below 55 degrees, indoor temperatures must be at least 68 degrees. At night, the temperature indoors must be at least 62 degrees, regardless of the temperature outside.

So far, you have done all the right things. If a landlord won’t repair hazardous conditions, a tenant can sue in housing court in what is known as an HP proceeding. HP cases are usually straightforward enough for a tenant to navigate without a lawyer. If there’s a code violation, a judge orders a correction and the problem is resolved.

But if the landlord does not do the work, then the process gets more complicated. “While a tenant can bring a landlord back to court for additional orders and fines, the most effective remedy is contempt of court,” David E. Frazer, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants, said. “A motion for contempt, however, is highly technical and can be difficult to successfully prosecute.”

So what do you do now? You could withhold rent. If the landlord takes you to court for nonpayment, a judge could award you a rent abatement and order the landlord to fix the problem. However, withholding rent is not without risk: Your name could end up on a blacklist, and your credit score could be harmed.

You have other tools at your disposal, most significantly your neighbors. If others on your line are affected by this, work as a group. “Tenants are always better off when they act collectively,” Mr. Frazer said.

Call a tenant meeting and decide on a strategy. You could call 311 en masse, as the Department of Housing Preservation and Development was a party to your earlier cases and should have inspected your apartment to see that the code violations were remedied, according to Mr. Frazer. You could also start a rent strike, chip in to hire a lawyer for another HP proceeding, or both. Act in lock step and your complaints will be harder to ignore.

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