NYC Living

NYC Heat Law: Renter's Rights to Heat and Hot Water

There are several essential tenets New Yorkers abide by to survive the winter such as forgoing waiting on outdoor subway platforms (we feel for you, JMZ riders), insisting on sitting away from the door when eating dinner (those billowy door curtains do nothing) and above all else, maintaining toasty temperatures at home (on a sub-freezing night, is there any more comforting sound than the hiss of a radiator?). On these dark, inhumanly cold days, we all have the urge to jack up the heat, take a hot shower and hole up in the big chair by the heater. But what happens if you arrive home to frigid apartment without that welcome of hissing clanking radiator? It frequently happens to renters to the bane of renters across the boroughs.

Unlike avoiding outdoor subway platforms and being fussy about dinner reservations, having a heated apartment in the winter is not just advisable, but a protected right. According to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, building owners are required to provide hot water year-round and heat under certain conditions during what is designated as “heat season” from Oct. 1 to May 31:

Property owners are required to provide tenants with heat under the following conditions:

  • Between the hours of 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM, if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit; and,
  • Between the hours of 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, if the temperature outside falls below 40 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

As such, if you find yourself occupying an apartment without heat or hot water, you may wish to withhold rent until your deadbeat landlord addresses the situation. While the vengeance of that may be sweet, it might not be worth it in the end. “Under New York law, you are allowed to withhold rent.” says Justin La Mort, a housing rights attorney in Brooklyn.  However, he cautions, the landlord can then turn around and sue you for nonpayment. “So the bigger question,” La Mort says, “is whether you should withhold rent.”

So what should you do when you don’t have heat and hot water? 

La Mort recommends that you immediately contact your landlord instead of defaulting to withholding rent. If you are able to unearth your lease from the depths of your file cabinet, you should be able to find the steps you need to take to properly report damages and needed repairs. If it is an emergency situation, call the landlord to notify him of your problem ASAP and follow up with a written notification. Keep a copy of all written correspondence for your records.

If your problem is not fixed in a reasonable period of time after contacting your landlord, you have the right to call 311 to report the violation. At this point, you also have the right to sue him for breaking the warranty of habitability and can begin an HP proceeding in housing court in the appropriate county office. An HP proceeding (“HP” stands for “Housing Part”) is the process by which you can force your landlord to make necessary repairs.  For specific information about starting an HP proceeding and how to file the correct paperwork, visit the housing court’s website. The court does have filing fees, but exceptions are sometimes made for tenants who cannot afford them.

What you’ll need when you appear in court:

  • Your landlord’s name and address
  • If there is a managing agent, you’ll need that name and address
  • Proper forms given to you by the housing court completed in full
  • All correspondence between you and your landlord concerning your issues
  • Receipts for services if you paid to have your heat or hot water fixed yourself
  • If you want your rental property inspected, fill out an inspection request and take it with you to court

While circumstances might force you to make needed repairs yourself or seek alternate accommodations, don’t withhold rent to pay for those expenses. You’re better off taking your landlord to court and letting the judge sort it out. Attorney Steven Smollens cites these measures as “…a far quicker method of obtaining justice than waiting to be sued for not paying rent.”

For more information on NYC’s heat and hot water code, you can consult the New York City Department Housing Preservation and Development website.

(Thumbnail photo courtesy Todd Baker via Flickr Creative Commons; Allen Taylor of Taylored Content also contributed to this article)

Mariela Quintana

Mariela Quintana has worked on StreetEasy's marketing and editorial teams for three years. She has covered topics relating to all things local real estate and is ceaselessly curious about New York City's history, architecture and neighborhoods. She has lived in the city for all but eight months of her life. It was a rough eight months.