What to do if your NYC apartment doesn’t have heat or hot water

Know your rights this winter

The bitterly cold weather that has engulfed New York City this week is only going to get worse—thanks to the “bomb cyclone” that’s making its way up the East Coast, temperatures are expected to be 20 to 40 degrees below normal, and could go below zero through the weekend.

Your first instinct may be to stay indoors and burrow under a blanket, but what if the heat in your apartment isn’t working? There’s been an uptick in heat complaints since the end of December, when the arctic chill first swooped in to New York City; according to NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, more than 4,300 heat complaints were made on January 2 alone.

First, it’s good to know exactly what your rights are: According to HPD, between October 31 and May 1—known as “heat season”—New York City landlords are required to ensure that apartments are reasonably heated. Here’s the official word:

Day: Between the hours of 6:00am and 10:00pm, if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Night: Between the hours of 10:00pm and 6:00am, the inside temperature is required to be at least 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

Landlords must also provide hot water, “365 days per year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.”

My heat isn’t working—what should I do?

If you think you’re not being provided with adequate heat, the first thing to do is call your landlord and make sure they know what’s going on. That may well be enough to get the problem fixed—but if not, there are other steps you can take.

It’s useful to record the temperature in your apartment using an indoor/outdoor thermometer. (You can find plenty on Amazon.) If you find that it’s consistently below the required temperature, be sure to 1) call 311 to lodge a complaint, and 2) write it down! The Met Council on Housing has a handy sheet that you can use to track your history of complaints, temperature changes, and any witnesses to those two things. HPD also has a database where you can see the complaints made against landlords.

The Met Council also recommends the following:

  • Get other tenants in your building to lodge 311 complaints—strength in numbers!
  • If your landlord isn’t responding to phone calls, send them a certified letter noting the problem—that way, you have certified proof of your complaint.

They note that the city can, in theory, provide heat if landlords will not, but don’t count on it:

The city’s Emergency Repair Department may supply your heat if the landlord does not. But don’t wait for this! It’s rare for the city to intervene in this manner, but assistance from your local elected officials can help in this process.

If a boiler’s fuel tank is empty, tenants have the right to buy their own fuel after 24 hours of no heat and no response from the landlord. However, this provision does not apply if the boiler is broken and needs both repairs and fuel.

What happens after I make a 311 complaint?

Here’s what HPD says:

If a tenant files a 311 complaint related to heat or hot water, HPD attempts to notify the building owner or managing agent and may also attempt to contact the tenant to see whether service has been restored. If service has not been restored, an HPD inspector will go to the building to verify the complaint and issue the appropriate violation.

Landlords may also be subject to fines (ranging from $250 to $1,000) if they do not respond to HPD violations, depending on how severe the violation and how long it has been since it was issued.

I called 311, there are open violations, and nothing has happened—now what?

If the problem escalates to the point where you have to take legal action, your best bet is to find a lawyer who specializes in tenants’ rights, and go from there.

Per the Met Council, tenants who live in apartments that are rent-regulated—and thus, regulated by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal—can also lodge complaints through that agency. DHCR may then issue an order that “freezes and reduces rent when essential services are not provided, as well as prohibiting rent increases until the services are restored.”

And remember: any action like withholding rent or going on a rent strike should be taken under the advisement of legal counsel.

Source: FS – NYC Real Estate
What to do if your NYC apartment doesn’t have heat or hot water