In the bustling metropolis of New York City, finding a suitable apartment for rent can be a daunting task. The process involves multiple steps, including property searches, application completion, rent negotiation, and obtaining renter’s insurance. However, one crucial aspect that tenants must be aware of is their rights, particularly the implied warranty of habitability that accompanies every lease according to New York Real Property Law 235 B.
Understanding the Warranty of Habitability
The warranty of habitability, as stipulated in New York Real Property Law 235-B, is an implied covenant in every New York City apartment lease. This covenant mandates that landlords maintain apartments in a condition fit for human occupancy. It ensures that all amenities function as expected and that no conditions exist within the apartment that could potentially harm or even endanger the life of the tenant.
Moreover, the implied warranty of habitability extends to the common areas of any building. It is important to note that a landlord’s implied warranty of habitability cannot be waived, either orally or in the tenant’s lease agreement. Any attempt to waive this warranty is considered against public policy and is unenforceable by the court.
Conditions that Violate the Warranty of Habitability
Several conditions can violate the warranty of habitability as per New York Real Property Law 235-b. These include, but are not limited to, lack of heat or inadequate heat, absence of hot water, plumbing issues, mold, pest infestations, bedbugs, broken appliances, missing or malfunctioning smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, lead paint violations, and missing window guards for tenants with children under ten years of age.
In the unfortunate event that your apartment becomes damaged and uninhabitable due to a fire, water damage, hurricane, or another natural disaster, you have the right to cancel your lease upon three days’ written notice. In such a scenario, you are not obligated to pay rent or complete your lease, provided you vacate and surrender the premises.
However, if the tenant is responsible for creating an unsafe or unclean condition, then it is not the landlord’s responsibility to rectify the situation. Landlords also have a duty to protect tenants from reasonably foreseeable criminal harm. For instance, if a tenant falls victim to a crime such as burglary in their apartment, and it can be proven that the landlord was negligent in repairing the apartment or building entrance locks, the tenant may be able to recover damages from the landlord.
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The Right to Promised Services under the Warranty of Habitability
The warranty of habitability also entitles tenants to any services or conditions promised by the landlord in the lease prior to moving in, even if they are not required by law. For example, if a landlord promised to provide air conditioning and failed to do so, this would be considered a breach of the warranty of habitability. In such a case, the tenant may be able to request or sue the landlord for a rent reduction. However, before taking any action, the tenant must provide written notice to the landlord and ensure they have proof of the delivery of this notice.
Heating Laws and the Warranty of Habitability
In New York City, the heating season runs from October 1 through May 31. During this period, landlords are required to maintain indoor temperatures above 62 degrees at all times, irrespective of the outside temperature. Additionally, from 6 AM to 10 PM, landlords must ensure indoor temperatures remain at a minimum of 68 degrees when outside temperatures fall below 55 degrees. Landlords are also obligated to provide hot water throughout the year.
It is not uncommon for buildings and landlords to provide inadequate heat, especially during cold fronts in late April or May. In such instances, tenants should be aware of their rights. The first course of action for a tenant experiencing inadequate heat is to file a complaint with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) by calling 311. If the entire building is without heat, tenants should encourage their neighbors to file complaints as well, as there is strength in numbers. If the heat is not restored, the HPD will dispatch an inspector to the building to verify the complaint and issue violations and fines, which can range from $250-1000. Tenants residing in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments may also file complaints with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), which may impose additional penalties on the landlord.
If the heat is not restored promptly, or if the landlord intentionally cut the heat (meaning the lack of heat wasn’t due to issues regarding boiler maintenance/performance), it is advisable for the tenant to consult with a landlord-tenant attorney to discuss their legal rights, which may include a rent abatement for the days in which heat was not provided.
Remedies for Tenants if Landlords Breach the Warranty of Habitability
Tenants have several options at their disposal if their landlord breaches the warranty of habitability. However, regardless of the chosen course of action, tenants must ensure that they provide the landlord with written notice of any repair request or unsafe condition and keep proof of this notice.
One of the initial steps a tenant can take is to report the conditions to the HPD by calling 311. If the landlord has not addressed repairs, lack of services, or emergency conditions, this is an appropriate first step.
Additionally, tenants can commence a court proceeding against the landlord, known as an “HP proceeding”. This proceeding compels the landlord to make repairs and correct any outstanding building violations. When initiating this proceeding, tenants can request an inspection of their residence from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).
Another, albeit riskier, tactic is to withhold rent until the landlord makes the requested repairs. This approach can be risky because the landlord may sue the tenant for non-payment of rent. However, if this occurs, the tenant can counterclaim based on a breach of the warranty of habitability. The court will then decide the amount of any rent abatement to which the tenant is entitled.
Finally, tenants could make the necessary repairs themselves and then subtract the reasonable repair costs from their rent payment. This option should only be considered if the repair is deemed an emergency, the landlord has been given written notice, and the landlord has not corrected the repairs. If tenants choose this route, they should keep all notices for repairs, any photographs, and all receipts for the repairs.
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The Importance of the Warranty of Habitability
The warranty of habitability in New York City is designed to protect tenants and ensure their right to a livable home. If tenants believe their rights are being violated, it is crucial to document everything and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, whether that involves contacting the appropriate city agency or hiring an attorney.
However, it is important to remember that while NYC rent laws prohibit landlords from checking whether a tenant has been to housing court before, landlords still have the right to check a tenant’s credit history, ask for landlord references, and financial statements.
As a result, an unintended consequence of these tenant-friendly laws is that landlords will be ever stricter in tenant-selection. After all, why would they risk a “professional” tenant taking all of the potential actions in this article when they could rent it out to someone who has a stellar credit history, high income, and perfect references? This is a significant consideration for both landlords and tenants in the complex landscape of New York City’s rental market.
In conclusion, the warranty of habitability is a fundamental right for tenants in New York City. It ensures that landlords maintain their properties in a condition suitable for human habitation and that tenants live in a safe and healthy environment. Understanding this warranty and the rights it provides is essential for anyone renting an apartment in New York City.
Disclosure: Hauseit® and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. No representation, guarantee or warranty of any kind is made regarding the completeness or accuracy of information provided.