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Winter is here, but your heat is not. What can you do? A lack of heat in a New York City apartment is a common, chronic problem. Tens of thousands of complaints about a lack of heat or hot water are filed with the city’s housing department every year, making it the single most common recorded problem for tenants. So far this heat season, the city received nearly 116,000 complaints, records show.
Rachel Holliday Smith, The City
This article was originally published on Jan 6 5:00am EST by THE CITY
If you’re among that group, it’s your responsibility to push for a fix. Here are the steps to take, and how to take them, according to heat and housing experts — and a New Yorker with a cold apartment who successfully got his landlord to turn on the heat.
Are landlords required to provide heat? To what temperature?
The first thing to know is that it’s illegal to keep an apartment below a certain temperature in the winter in New York. Between October 1 and May 31, your landlord is legally required to stick to these rules:
And, all year round, landlords must provide hot water of at least 120 degrees out of the tap.
My apartment feels colder than that. What should I do?
A good first step is to check and make sure your apartment is below the legal temperature threshold. Andrea Shapiro, director of programs at the tenant advocacy group Met Council on Housing, suggests getting a cheap thermometer – “from the 99 cent store, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy,” Shapiro said – and take a few readings during the day and at night.
Write down the temperature inside your apartment, outside the building, and the time of day. With that information in hand, her advice is simple: Let your super or management company know about the problem right away, preferably in writing.
“A lot of people don’t do that and they wait until there’s a big problem, or they haven’t had heat for a long time,” Shapiro said. “The first day you don’t have heat, or the first time you notice there’s a problem with the heating system, tell someone — even if you know they’re not going to do anything.”
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If you want to be extra sure your complaints are heard – and to have proof in case you need it in the future – send a letter to your landlord about the heat issue by certified mail, and keep a copy for yourself.
In the meantime, be very careful if you are using other heat sources to heat your apartment, like space heaters. Plug them directly into a wall outlet, don’t leave them unattended, and unplug them as you sleep. Never use a gas stove to heat a room, and make sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check this list of heat safety tips from the city health department for other ways to stay safe.
Does writing to your landlord with complaints work?
Sometimes it does! Varun Poddar, a media analyst living on the Upper West Side, said he got his landlord to turn the heat up by tracking the temperature, nudging them several times by email — and hinting he would take his complaint to city inspectors.
The heat had consistently been too low since he moved in in early 2021, but he and his wife didn’t complain. But this past November, his patience wore out when the weather changed and he “woke up really cold at around 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.” He emailed the management company in the middle of the night.
They said they would look into it, but several more days passed, Poddar said. He emailed again saying that he had been tracking the temperature regularly – which dropped as low as 48 degrees – sent them a link to the city’s heat laws, and asked: “Should I reach out to the city? Is this something they can help with?” he recalled.
“They were like, ‘No, no, we’ll get the boilers checked.’ And they did get the boiler checked,” he said. “And since then, it has not been an issue.”
I let my super or building manager know about the problem, but they haven’t fixed anything. What now?
Experts say your next step should be a call to 311. Why? Because filing a formal heat complaint through the city’s 311 system will trigger the city’s housing agency, Housing Preservation and Development, to send an inspector to your building to check the heat.
The appearance of an inspector can mobilize landlords dragging their feet, said Shapiro. In many cases, an inspector will come within 48 hours because “the city does view heat as a very serious issue,” she said, and prioritizes those inspections in winter months.
The problem, she said, is some landlords turn the heat on for inspectors, and then turn it off again.
At the very least, the inspector’s visit will create a formal record of the complaint — and a violation if they substantiate it, said Noelle Francois, executive director of the nonprofit Heat Seek, which works with qualified low-income tenants to document heat issues with automated temperature sensors.
“I know that it can be very frustrating to call 311 … But, if nothing else, you are creating a public record that there is a problem in your building with the heat,” she said.
What do I need to know when calling 311?
You can contact 311 by phone, or via the 311 online portal or 311 app.
A few things to know before making a 311 report:
A note for public housing residents: NYCHA tenants have a separate complaint system and cannot file complaints through 311. All heat complaints for public housing must be made through NYCHA’s Customer Contact Center at (718) 707-7771. Many times, however, complaints within NYCHA about lack of heat and hot water are left unanswered, a chronic issue THE CITY has reported on many, many times.
OK, I put my 311 complaint in and an inspector came and issued a violation. But the heat is still off. What are my options now?
Your next best option is to prepare to go to court. Don’t panic! It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as you may think. You can do it without an attorney, experts say. And often just starting a legal process will get results, prompting landlords to get the heat on before a trial.
First, start gathering your evidence. Keep a heat log of the temperatures in your apartment and the temperature outside, day and night, regularly. Met Council has a helpful heat log you can fill in, or you can create your own. Heat Seek provides free automated temperature sensors to qualified low-income tenants. But you don’t need any high-tech system, Francois said. Just take regular readings inside with a thermometer, and write them down with the time of day and the outside temperature.
Second, bring your landlord to court with an “HP Action,” or a Housing Part Action, which means a formal complaint filed in Housing Court. Here’s how:
Experts say that because of the way Housing Court operates, cases are very often settled before going to trial; Francois of Heat Seek says her organization has prepared to go to trial on behalf of tenants several times in the organization’s nine years in operation, but have never gotten to that point.
A settlement could mean a landlord agrees to make a repair and turn on the heat. But if you have to get to the point of forcing your landlord to follow the law, Shapiro of Met Council said you’re likely dealing with a stubborn owner who may still not do what is legally required.
In extreme cases, the city may take action over a landlord’s head and make necessary repairs through the Emergency Repairs Program. But getting a resolution is an uphill battle if a landlord is uncooperative or belligerent. City Limits previously reported on the difficulty in holding landlords accountable for a lack of heat, and how poorer neighborhoods are more often where lack-of-heat complaints come from.
Shapiro’s advice: Organize with your neighbors, take action together and get ready to fight for the long haul. In her experience, buildings that work together have more success getting repairs than tenants working by themselves.
“The more people complaining, the more likely it is to get resolved,” she said.
Do you have advice for fellow New Yorkers about getting the heat turned on? What else should we know about it? Get in touch with THE CITY newsroom at email@example.com.
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
What do you do if your apartment has no heat in NYC? ›
If the lack of heat in your apartment is more of an emergency (e.g., it's 12 degrees outside, and you have no heat or hot water), you can file a complaint with the city online or call 311 to report the conditions to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”).Do I have to pay rent if there is no heat NYC? ›
The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) is authorized to reduce the rent of any rent regulated apartment in New York City when required heat and hot water services are not maintained.Is it illegal to not have heat in NYC? ›
NYC Heating Laws
From 6 AM - 10 PM: if the outside temperature falls below 55°F, then the inside temperature must be at least 68°F everywhere in your apartment and in your building.
Landlords must provide working equipment for utilities including heat, electricity, plumbing, hot and cold running water, and major appliances such as a stove. If any of your utilities don't work, ask your landlord to fix the problem. Heat: Your landlord must provide equipment that can heat your home to at least 65°.How long can a tenant be left without heating? ›
24 hours. Under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, you have the right to expect your landlord to carry out repairs in a 'reasonable time'. If it's an emergency repair as you've got no heating or hot water, your landlord should fix this in 24 hours.What are my rights as a tenant without heating? ›
Under The Landlord and Tenants Act 1985, rented properties without heating, hot water, gas or electricity are considered hazardous and inhospitable to live in. Therefore, your landlord should not leave you without access to these things for a long time.How long does a landlord have to fix heat NYC? ›
How long does my landlord have to fix the heat? In NYC, your landlord is required to fix your heat immediately. The city's Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), which handles 311 complaints, sorts housing problems into different categories depending on how long the owner has to fix them.Can I ask for rent reduction if no heating? ›
Ask for a rent reduction
You can ask for a reduction if your everyday living has been disrupted during repair work or because of disrepair. Your landlord is not automatically required to reduce your rent but you can negotiate. Email or write to your landlord.
You may qualify for the NYC Rent Freeze Program if you meet both of these requirements: Rent an apartment that is rent regulated (rent controlled, rent stabilized, hotel stabilized or Mitchell-Lama) and; You are a senior citizen or have a disability.Are NYC apartments required to have heat? ›
Under the NYC Heat Law, your landlord must provide heat and hot water. So if you're freezing don't get boiling mad, take action — these tips will help.
What is the lowest temperature a landlord required to provide? ›
Specifically, Title 25 mandates that existing rental units be capable of maintaining a minimum indoor temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit during cold weather.Is it illegal to not provide heating? ›
Simply put, tenants are entitled to central heating or other equipment for space heating (radiators, etc) in every occupied room of a property, and landlords are obligated to provide this.Is heat not working an emergency? ›
No Heat. If the environment is cold outside, any loss of heat can be an emergency maintenance. It would help to close windows and doors to keep the existing heat within your apartment unit.Why is my heat blowing cold air in my apartment? ›
If your furnace is blowing cold air in your home, this is a sign of an issue with the flame detector, gas supply, air filter, pilot light, or condensate lines. Many of these issues are able to be easily solved on your own by sanitizing or replacing components in the gas furnace.Are landlords obliged to provide heating? ›
Landlords are responsible for making sure that the entire heating system is operational and sufficient to keep the property warm throughout the winter.
How long can a landlord leave you without an oven? A. The law doesn't state an exact timeframe. It simply says that repairs should be carried out 'within a reasonable time'.Can landlords turn off heating? ›
According to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), which governs housing conditions, heating can be centrally controlled by the landlord in a house in multiple occupation.How quickly should a landlord make repairs? ›
It says landlords should fix major problems within two weeks if they pose a threat to a tenant's health and security, such as a broken boiler in the depths of winter.What do landlords legally have to do? ›
Your landlord has to do anything your tenancy agreement says they have to do. Your landlord is also generally responsible for keeping in repair: the structure and exterior of your home, for example, the walls, roof, foundations, drains, guttering and external pipes, windows and external doors.What rights do I have as a tenant without contract? ›
A tenant without a written contract is still entitled to all the statutory rights a regular tenant with a contract is, including water, heating, a safe environment etc. In a similar vein, the tenant is still obligated to pay rent on time and take reasonable care of the property.
What is Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985? ›
Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 implies an absolute and non-excludable obligation upon landlords to carry out basic repairs. It is implied into all tenancy agreements unless the tenancy: began before 24 October 1961. is a fixed term of seven years or more (with limited exceptions)What to do if your building doesn't have heat? ›
- Report Lack of Heat to Your Landlord. ...
- Report Code Violations to Local Authorities. ...
- Make Repairs Yourself and Deduct the Rent. ...
- Withhold Rent and Terminate Lease.
- Fireplace. A fireplace is a great way of heating your home without using your furnace or heater. ...
- Properly Seal Windows and Doors. ...
- Maximize Nature's Warmth. ...
- Shut the Door! ...
- Use More Rugs and Carpeting. ...
- Candles and Lighting. ...
- Cook More!