"Without a hint of remorse."
If you are a New York City apartment tenant, condo unit owner or co-op shareholder of substantial tenure, you flat-out know that housing rules, regulations and processes relevant to municipal dwellers can be dauntingly complex.
A warranty of habitability is assuredly a good thing for any New York City tenant with a lease. In nutshell terms, it is a protective legal tool safeguarding renters against landlord's failure to maintain an apartment in a habitable condition.
When the owner of a building with rent-stabilized tenants does a major capital improvements (MCI) he can get rent increases after filing an application with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). MCI applications can be opposed by tenants and in many cases the rent increases can be avoided or decreased.
Rent stabilized tenants in a Upper West Side building won a great victory today when the DHCR again revoked a $39.16 per room MCI rent increases for new windows after inspecting the windows and finding that they are defective. The owner installed the new windows in 2004 but when they were originally found to be defective in certain apartments the DHCR permanently exempted those apartments from the increase in 2006. The owner appealed arguing that the exemption should be temporary and that it should be given another chance to repair the windows, although tenants argued it had already had multiple chances. The owner lost its Article 78 appeal before Judge Marilyn Shafer. The owner then appealed to the Appellate Division. In 2010 a divided court ruled in Langham Mansions v. DHCR that the agency should have suspended rather than permanently denied the increase, despite evidence in the record that the owner had repeatedly tried to repair the windows and failed. The matter was sent back to the DHCR and the owner then had four additional years to try to repair the windows. The owner failed to do so and when the DHCR reinspected in 2014 they were found to be defective, as the tenants had claimed they were in 2006. The windows were found to be both difficult to open and had air seepage due to gaps between the bottom sash and frame.
Landlords commonly request access from tenants for repairs both parties agree must be done. Work usually is completed with cooperation and communication on both sides. But sometimes, claims of "no access" are created by landlords and boards to pressure a tenant or shareholder to do something unrelated to a bona fide repair. For example, tenants have been asked to let an "inspector" in who turns out to be an appraiser for a bank, an adjustor for an insurance claim, or even a prospective buyer. Sometimes a landlord needs access to a tenant's apartment for work in other areas of the building but won't tell the tenant the real reason (knowing the tenant might not be obligated to comply), so he fabricates a reason. Most conflicts arise when landlords send workers without prior notice, workers do not show up, do a bad job, or are unlicensed. Tenants may rightly view such requests as "harassment" and disregard them entirely. Disregarding a request for access can be dangerous, however, no matter how suspect the request might be.
Landlords will often rent apartments to tenants claiming that they are not rent stabilized when in fact they are. In two recent cases, the Housing Court found for the tenants. Ron Languedoc represented the tenant in Raywood. Sam Himmelstein and Ron Languedoc represented the tenant in Shomron.
A small leak developed in the closet ceiling of apartment 15L, a coop apartment. The Coop's engineer's opinion was that it was caused by a leak from the bathroom in apartment 16L. The 16L apartment owner retained our firm and an engineer whose opinion was that the leak was not emanating from our client's bathroom but rather from pipes higher up in the building.
Many coop tenants whose apartments were damaged by Hurricane Sandy are wondering if they have any rights to financial compensation, in the form of an abatement of maintenance, resulting from their apartments being rendered partially or totally uninhabitable. This post does not address issues regarding property damage or relocation costs if the apartment is completely unlivable. The amount of a particular abatement will depend upon the extent of the damage to the apartment and how long the conditions exist. The cooperator must notify the coop board or agent of the damage, preferably in writing, and demand immediate repairs and provide access if requested. Conditions such as mold should be remediated according to Department of Health guidelines by a qualified expert.
If my apartment was damaged do I have to pay the full rent? NO. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may be entitled to a rent "abatement" or reduction of the rent that you were required to pay. Under New York law the landlord must provide you with a habitable apartment. It does not matter if the damage to your apartment was not the fault of the landlord. This is called the "Warranty of Habitability." In order to get a reduction in your rent, unless the landlord is willing to reduce your rent voluntarily, you have two options, one requiring going to housing court. To get a rent abatement through housing court you will have to withhold all or part of your rent. The landlord will then bring a proceeding in housing court to evict you for not paying your rent. When your serve your "Answer" to the court proceeding, you will list as a defense that there are repairs that have to be done. You will also list as a "counterclaim" that you are entitled to an abatement of your rent. You will have to prove to the court that there is damage to your apartment and that the landlord had notice of the damage. It is always better to have an attorney if you go to housing court. But even without an attorney you could get an abatement of your rent.