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Hurricane Ida, Now What? Answers to 5 Frequently Asked Questions for New York Renters
by Christin Damiano, Esq. September 22, 2021
Chris Damiano is a senior staff attorney for the Legal Hotline.
Many New York apartments were damaged due to Hurricane Ida last month. Now that waterlogged belongings have been disposed of and the subways are rideable again, below are answers to 5 frequently asked questions on how tenants can get their apartments repaired.
1. What is my landlord’s responsibility regarding flood damage to my apartment?
New York landlords are required to maintain apartments under the Warranty of Habitability. This means that, whether it is explicitly stated in your lease or not, you have the right to a safe, clean, and habitable apartment. Under the Housing Preservation and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (HSTPA), your landlord also has the duty to repair conditions that violate the Warranty of Habitability.
If the landlord has not maintained your apartment in accordance with the Warranty of Habitability or the HSTPA, you should write your landlord a letter detailing the conditions that need repair. Send the letter by certified mail, return receipt, and keep a copy of the letter for your records. If your landlord does not respond, you have several options:
Call Housing Preservation and Development for an Inspection
If your landlord ignores your letter requesting repairs, you can call 311 and ask for a Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) inspector. If you suspect that there is mold in the apartment, be sure to include that in your complaint.
HPD will come to inspect your apartment. If they find housing code violations, they will send a notice to your landlord outlining the violations and give your landlord a period of time to make repairs. If your landlord does not make the repairs in time, you should call HPD again and report that the violations have not been corrected. In some situations, HPD can make the repairs and bill the landlord for the work.
Filing a complaint with HPD can flag broader issues for those who might be living in an illegal apartment. If your apartment contains violations that cannot be corrected, such as insufficient entryways, dangerous structural conditions, or conditions that are an immediate hazard to the life and safety of tenants, then the Department of Buildings could issue a vacate order and you may need to leave your apartment immediately. You can find out if you are living in illegal apartment by clicking here and checking the Certificate of Occupancy on the Department of Buildings website.
File an HP Action in Housing Court
A second option is to file an HP Action in housing court. At this time during the Covid-19 pandemic, housing courts are open in all boroughs to take petitions for emergency repairs. Information on how to start a HP action can be found by clicking here. After the petition is filed, you will be given a date to appear in court. Take evidence of the condition of the apartment, such as photographs. If you have filed a complaint with HPD and they issued a violations report, the judge will also consider that evidence. Most HP actions end with the landlord and tenant agreeing to give the landlord access to repair the apartment within a reasonable amount of time.
File an Application for a Rent Reduction Based on Decreased Services
If you live in a rent stabilized apartment, you can ask Housing and Community Renewal (HCR) to reduce your rent due to a reduction in services, including a breach of the Warranty of Habitability. HCR can reduce your rent based on the severity of disrepair of your apartment, for the period of time in which the apartment is in disrepair. Information on that can be found here.
2. Do I need to let my landlord’s unlicensed contractor in to make repairs?
Generally speaking, landlords in New York can hire the contractor of their choosing, including having repairs made by a super or a porter. Under the law, a plumber or an electrician should be licensed. It is strongly advised that landlords use licensed contractors, especially after major disasters such as a hurricane, because scam artists abound in these times.
3. Can’t I just make the repairs myself?
Making repairs yourself, without first getting written permission from your landlord, could result in your landlord starting a holdover proceeding against you for altering the premises without permission. An oral agreement is not sufficient, you must get permission in writing before making repairs yourself. Further, making alterations to the apartment without permission could also be grounds for the landlord keeping your security deposit, even if your intent was to improve the apartment.
4. What if my apartment is completely uninhabitable?
Unfortunately, your landlord is not required to house you if your apartment is completely uninhabitable. If the apartment was damaged as part of a disaster that was not your fault, such as a flood or a fire, you may be able to cancel your lease on three days written notice to your landlord. Before doing so, you should check your lease to make sure it includes this clause.
In some situations, you may be able to get housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Information on this can be found here.
5. What about my ruined belongings?
If you have damage to your personal property, ask your landlord if the building’s insurance will cover your losses and what you need to do to report that loss. If you have renter’s insurance, you should contact your insurance company. You may be able to sue your landlord for the loss of your belongings if you can prove that they were negligent in how they maintained the apartment and that negligence led to your loss. For example, if you live on the top floor of the building and the roof has been leaking for some time, if your landlord has knowledge of that condition but did not repair it, and the apartment flooded from this leak and ruined your possessions, your landlord may be found negligent and be responsible for your loss. Information about how to start a lawsuit against your landlord for loss of personal property can be found here.
As always, if you have any questions regarding a landlord/tenant situation, please call the Legal Hotline at 212-626-7383 for information and advice.
This informational resource does not constitute, or substitute for, legal advice.
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