The heat is on! Or is it?

October 20, 2014

Dear Friends,

Yesterday evening as the radiators in my apartment were hissing away, I thought about the many elderly tenants whose radiators and apartments were probably cold.  Why did my family have heat while these seniors were shivering? The answer is: Whereas I’m lucky enough to live in a coop apartment, where the residents decide how much heat there should be, tenants of Rent Stabilized and Rent Controlled apartments are at the mercy of their landlords, who in turn are subject to the (rather ungenerous) heat laws.

How warm (or not) is an apartment supposed to be?

Here’s what the law says about heat in New York City:

From October 1 to May 31, heat is required at night (10 pm – 6 am) only when it is below 40 degrees outside.  When the outside temperature falls to 39 degrees or less, a landlord has to provide heat to maintain an indoor temperature of only 55 degrees.  Therefore, yesterday when the temperature fell to 41, landlords were not required to provide heat to their rent-regulated tenants.

During the day (6 am – 10 pm), landlords are required to provide heat only when the temperature outside dips below 55 degrees, in which case landlords must keep rent-regulated apartments at a temperature of at least 68 degrees.

The City has developed a handy graphic that makes this pretty clear; it’s available here.  The City also has developed a flyer on the subject, available here.

If an apartment is not warm enough, what can a tenant do about it?

So what is a tenant to do when a landlord provides either no heat or inadequate heat? The first thing to do is to contact the landlord and complain.  The second is to call 311 and make a complaint to the City – specifically, the agency known as HPD (Housing Preservations and Development).  Finally, a tenant may take action against a landlord by: a) filing a complaint against the landlord with the DHCR (the state agency that oversees rent-regulated apartments in New York); or b) suing the landlord in Housing Court in what is known as an “HP action.”  The Metropolitan Council on Housing has some useful information about these steps on its website, available here.

Another useful item available on the Met Council’s website is something called a “heat log” – available here.  A heat log is a piece of paper where a tenant writes down the temperatures inside and outside their apartment at various times of the day.  This document is crucial in cases where a tenant is trying to prove that the landlord has violated the law; a good heat log will often be accepted as evidence by a judge in court.  For this reason, any tenant who is having problems with heat should go to a hardware store and buy a few inexpensive indoor thermometers to place in various locations throughout their apartment, and then get busy with the log!

If you have a client who is experiencing a problem with heat, please pass along the information contained in this e-mail – and, as always, you should feel free to refer them to one of our monthly legal clinics throughout Manhattan, where we’ll be happy to provide advice and referrals.

All the best,

Alex