Real Estate

The Work in My Building Is Endless and Invasive. Can I Withhold Rent?

Q: We live in a penthouse apartment with a wraparound roof terrace in a large high-rise in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Two weeks ago, a maintenance crew arrived unannounced to erect an enormous gantry on the terrace in order to access windowsbelow that need repairs. We were told the work would take a few days, but they’re nowhere near finished. Since the crews require access to our apartment to reach the terrace, they come and go at all hours, sometimes arriving before we are out of bed, and traipse through all day. While they work, we have no privacy unless we lower all the blinds and sit in the dark. The workers do not consistently wear masks, and balked at my questions about their vaccination status. Can we set any limits?

A: A landlord is entitled to reasonable access to a tenant’s apartment, with adequate notice, to perform necessary maintenance. Work on facades or windows would certainly fall into that category, according to Jennifer Rozen, the managing attorney of the Rozen Law Group in Manhattan.

“The housing maintenance code gives broad leeway to landlords to access apartments,” Ms. Rozen said.

But there are limits. Your apartment cannot be turned into a permanent staging area, and you are certainly entitled to peace and quiet before you get out of bed in the morning. You are also entitled to set limits about masking during a pandemic, especially in light of the Omicron variant.

“You can definitely lay some parameters,” Ms. Rozen said. “They can’t be coming in and out to the point where you essentially become constructively evicted.”

You are probably entitled to a rent abatement for the weeks that you are inconvenienced. Write a letter to the landlord, or hire a lawyer to write one on your behalf. In the letter, lay out your demands: You want the workers to stick to a schedule that works for you and your family; you want them to follow Covid safety precautions; and you want a rent abatement for the inconvenience.

Tell the landlord that you will withhold rent until a suitable agreement can be reached, which will certainly get their attention. Remind them that you are motivated to get this work done, too, as you’d like to regain use of the terrace as soon as possible.

You are in a strong position right now, as the eviction moratorium is still in effect through Jan. 15. Even if evictions resume, the backlog of cases will be tremendous, and you will be at the back of that line. “People are safer now more than they ever have been when it comes to withholding their rent or refusing access,” Ms. Rozen said.

With that assurance, you can hold your ground until your conditions are met.

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