What to Do If Your Long Island Landlord Won’t Make Necessary Repairs
It’s an age-old problem between landlords and tenants. Something breaks. The tenant tries to get it fixed.
The landlord takes his or her sweet time about it.
But what can you actually do when this problem arises?
You have rights, but actually getting the problem fixed isn’t necessarily straightforward.
Know what falls under the “Warranty of Habitability.”
While it’s true a landlord is responsible for repairs, you need to know not all repairs are equal.
The law that makes the landlord responsible is the New York’s “Warranty of Habitability” law. This means the landlord has a responsibility to keep the property safe and decent.
That means certain problems, like inadequate water, inadequate heat, electric problems, gas problems, mold, leaks, peeling paint (because of lead paint), plumbing & sewage, rodents & insects, or broken locks are supposed to be fixed in a very reasonable and timely fashion. These problems all impact health and safety, and make the building less than habitable.
Unless the lease says otherwise, the landlord is perfectly free to let your dishwasher or washing machine stay broken for as long as he or she feels like it. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s something you need to know before you start reaching for legal remedies.
Consider unconventional solutions.
While you can exert legal pressure to get some problems solved it may be cheaper, easier, and less of a headache to handle things a different way. For example, many superintendents take tips.
And while it may feel a bit annoying to dip into an already tight budget to tip someone to fix a problem they ought to address anyway, there’s no denying slipping your super $25 to $50 is going to get you the attention you need a whole lot sooner, both for this problem and for future problems.
For building-wide problems you might consider putting together a tenant’s association so you can approach the landlord as a group. He or she may be more likely to listen when multiple customers are speaking up.
Consult your lease.
Your lease should outline who to contact for repairs, and how to contact them. If your lease says to call a special hotline to put in a maintenance request and you just catch the super in the hallway you won’t really have a leg to stand on.
You always want to try following the process first. Document your attempts to do so, noting date, time, and the wording of the request you left. If you spoke to someone, document their name. If your landlord has you fill out a web form, print the confirmation.
Make sure you do this as soon as you notice a problem. Don’t let a small water leak become a flood if you can do something about it.
Taking photographs, and sending them on, accomplishes two things.
Most habitability problems damage and depreciate the landlord’s property, too. Photos might prompt the landlord to get moving just to protect his or her investment. It gives some context to how bad the problem really is.
Second, it puts a savvy landlord on notice that you are a savvy tenant, smart enough to document the problem as it unfolds, without forcing you to start making threats.
Make requests in writing.
If phone calls, web forms, and other forms of landlord-approved notice aren’t getting results, write a letter. Send it certified mail return receipt so you get proof someone saw the letter and accepted it.
Keep copies of every letter you send. Multiple attempts to send letters will help you build a strong case, later, that you did everything in your power to resolve the problem before you started to escalate it.
Consult a lawyer before you start taking additional steps.
Yes, you can call the city. Yes, you could attempt to pay to fix the problem yourself and deduct that amount from your rent. There are laws that let you withhold rent, too. But when you start taking actions that are likely to result in a trip to Housing Court, it’s smart to have a lawyer on your side.
It’s even smart to try having an attorney write the last few bits of correspondence giving the landlord the opportunity to address the problem before you start taking additional action.
You don’t want to be left without a leg to stand on if a landlord starts an eviction proceeding. You might know it’s a retaliatory action, but the judge might not believe you if you haven’t handled each step of the process correctly.
And since being sued by a landlord tends to get you blacklisted in ways that make it tough to get another one, it is best if you and your lawyer can work together to make sure he or she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.