Who should pay for repairs in an NYC rental

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August 4, 2020

Renters have a legal right to a safe, clean, and well-maintained home. As a tenant, you are not automatically at fault for many types of apartment repairs. When is your landlord legally responsible to work on your place? This guide will make sure you know what to do if you spot problems in your NYC apartment.

When landlords are responsible for apartment repairs in NYC
When tenants are responsible for apartment repairs in NYC
What to do when you discover damages in an apartment
How long does your landlord have to make repairs in NYC?
What to do when your NYC landlord fails to conduct repairs
Can your landlord increase rent to cover repair costs?
Can your landlord deduct from the security deposit to cover repair costs?
Tips for minimizing conflict over who is responsible for repairs 

Renters guide to apartment repairs

When landlords are responsible for apartment repairs in NYC

Landlords in New York have a legal obligation to address emergency problems with their properties unless it’s the result of deliberate damage by the tenant. “Essential” or “emergency” repairs are mainly those that violate NYC’s housing code and don’t qualify as normal wear-and-tear. Common problems that fall under the responsibility of the landlord include:

  • Broken heaters/radiators
  • Defective plumbing fixtures
  • Insufficient hot water supply
  • Rodent/bug infestations
  • Mold and other hazardous growth
  • Peeling lead paint (if children are present)
  • Inadequate lighting in building stairways and halls

When tenants are responsible for apartment repairs in NYC

Aside from normal wear-and-tear, when tenants are the direct cause of damage—whether intentional or not—the responsibility to fix it shifts to the tenant. Common examples include:

  • Toilets/plumbing clogged by non-flushable objects
  • Excessive carpet stains (often pet-related)
  • Scratches on floors
  • Large holes in walls
  • Cracked/broken windows
  • Damaged/missing cabinet fixtures
  • Unapproved alterations and improvements

What to do when you discover damages in an apartment

Don’t jump the gun and report the problem to the city right away. Begin by writing to your landlord (using certified mail with a requested return receipt, as to formally document the issue) to inform them of the problem. Email works too. 

Good landlords will promptly address any justifiable repair work. If they ignore or deny your request, an inspector can examine the problem and forward their analysis to your landlord. It may be surprising to know that many NYC landlords do follow the inspector’s orders and will carry out repairs.

How long does your landlord have to make repairs in NYC?

The City requires landlords in NYC to complete any necessary repair work within a specified time frame and is based on the severity of the issue. Landlords that fail to make repairs before the deadline can be heavily fined by the Housing Preservation and Development department (HPD). There are three categories of NYC housing code violations: 

A – Non-hazardous, up to 90 days

  • Minor plumbing issues
  • Leaking refrigerator
  • Peeling paint
  • Failure to post the required signs

B – Hazardous, up to 30 days

  • Roaches or mice
  • Bedbugs
  • Cracks in tile floor
  • Mold on the walls
  • No smoke detector

C – Immediately hazardous, up to 24 hours

  • Major plumbing issues (Broken/leaking sink, toilet that will not flush)
  • Bedbugs
  • Lead-based paint
  • No heating
  • No hot water

The City’s summary of housing code violations provides additional information and other common scenarios for each category.

Who pay for damages in New York rental

What to do when your NYC landlord fails to conduct repairs

Withhold rent

Tenants who believe their requests fall under “essential repairs” and aren’t at fault can withhold rent if their landlord ignores or turns down the request. However, it is crucial to follow all requirements mandated by law, particularly regarding the steps of notifying your landlord, and ensure there’s a valid reason for doing so. If for any reason your case is deemed unfounded after you’ve withheld any amount of rent, your landlord may have enough legal grounds for eviction should they choose to do so (and many start the eviction process immediately upon a tenant skipping rent). 

Repair and deduct

Another option, “repair and deduct,” is to hire a repairman or do the work yourself and deduct the cost from the rent. It bears repeating that you need to, again, ensure you’ve followed the requisite steps and given your landlord a reasonable amount of time to address the issue prior to repairing and deducting.

If you decide to do either of these options, it’s highly advisable you speak with a lawyer or legal counsel first since you’ll be entering litigation territory.

Make a 311 complaint

Tenants in NYC can file a complaint using 311. The City will send an inspector to confirm there is an unsafe condition or damage in the apartment and could issue a formal violation. This should pressure the landlord to fix the damages more quickly.

There is power in numbers

Sometimes it just takes more than a single tenant to pressure a landlord into getting repairs done. If you find your individual concerns dismissed by your landlord, you should know as a renter that you have a right to form a tenant association with others in the building who may be facing similar issues. With your neighbors, write a letter with a detailed list of all major issues requiring attention and send it to your landlord. With enough tenants coming together, the landlord may be more likely to cave in to demands and perform the necessary repair work. Remember, the more members in your tenant association, the more pressure mounted on the landlord.

Can your landlord increase rent to cover repair costs?

Yes, landlords in NYC can legally increase a tenant’s rent to cover costs. However, they can only raise rents to a maximum of $15K over a 15-year time frame, equivalent to $85 per month. Landlords that do this must also provide an itemized list of all costs to avoid overcharging tenants.

Can your landlord deduct from the security deposit to cover repair costs?

Yes, when tenants are at fault and can’t pay out of pocket for repairs, landlords in NYC can use some or all of a security deposit to cover costs. However, they must follow specific guidelines including providing an itemized statement explaining the reason(s) for any amount deducted within 14 days of vacating the unit and giving advance notice prior to making any deductions. They also cannot deduct any amount of money from a security deposit for ordinary wear and tear. Failing to follow all necessary steps could result in the landlord paying up to two times the amount of the security deposit to the tenant.

On the other hand, if a tenant is held responsible for damage with a security deposit that won’t cover all repair costs, a landlord may choose to file a small claims lawsuit against the tenant if they refuse to cover the remaining costs.

Tips for minimizing conflict over who is responsible for repairs 

  1. Request an itemized list of the damages and repair costs if deemed liable. Just because you were found responsible for damage doesn’t mean you should be taken advantage of—accidents happen to the best of us! Request a list from your landlord of all repairs you’re responsible for—including labor and material costs—to avoid being overcharged.
  2. Consider renter’s insurance. Some buildings require it and others don’t—but renters insurance can protect you from being held liable for the damage. As an added bonus, these policies cover personal belongings including furniture, electronics, clothing, and artwork usually not included under landlord insurance policies. Costs depend on several factors, with the US average at about $16 per month, and coverage level depends on the provider (some plans extend beyond the home and cover things like laptops stolen at a cafe).
  3. Document everything now. When first touring an apartment, take ample photos including close-ups of any obvious damage you come across. If possible, record a video of your walk through as well. Once you’ve signed a lease, your landlord should provide a document listing any existing damage you’ve come across. This should prevent repair disputes in the future. When it’s time to move out, document every nook and cranny to ensure you aren’t held liable for damages discovered later. If your landlord doesn’t provide an inspection checklist, there are a multitude of inspection for checklists for rentals available online that can assist.

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