One of the trickier aspects of the landlord/tenant relationship is figuring out who is responsible for paying for small repairs around the apartment. New York City landlords are legally required to provide a habitable rental property, and that generally translates to heat, hot water, and electricity.
If your landlord is a hardcore miser, it might not mean much else. As always, these matters inevitably boil down to what’s stipulated in the lease, so always make sure to read the fine print closely.
What Your Landlord IS Responsible For:
Major plumbing issues. Backed-up drains, lack of hot water, leaks in the ceiling: These repairs should all come out of your landlord’s pocket. Leaking faucets or running toilets are more of a gray area and may not require action – unless you can convince the landlord that their money is better spent on the $20 repair job than the elevated water bill.
All electricity and heating issues: You always have the right to power and heat. You do not have the right to air conditioning, unfortunately. Many landlords would argue that you can survive without it. If you’re skeptical, read these tips on surviving a NYC summer sans A/C.
Vermin infestation: Unless your landlord can somehow prove that it’s specifically your fault that cockroaches have assumed dominion over your kitchen, your landlord has to pay for an exterminator. Your landlord is also responsible for ensuring your place is mice and rat-free.
Hallways and exterior repairs: You should never be responsible for repairs to common spaces. If you are just moving in or out and have heavy furniture to finagle down common hallways, be careful not to scuff the walls and floor…and hope there are no witnesses around.
Shoveling sidewalk snow: Buildings in New York City are fined if they haven’t shoveled the sidewalk four hours after the last flake has fallen. Since this obviously affects the landlord, they are generally required to shovel. Unless, of course, it is otherwise specified in your lease.
That’s about all your landlord is absolutely required to do under law. Every other repair depends on your building code, your lease, and whether your landlord is a decent human being or not.
What Your Landlord is NOT Responsible For:
Getting you into your locked-out apartment. It is always better to try to deal with this without involving your landlord. So, if you have a roommate, figure out a key swap between the two of you. Some landlords include a specific lockout provision in the lease, which requires you to go to a locksmith and pay out of your own pocket. But, in general you can expect your landlord to help you get back into your apartment. Just try not to do it often, if at all.
Fixing burned-out bulbs. If the bulbs are inside your apartment, it is your responsibility to replace them. If, however, you cannot reach the bulbs or have a phobia of electrocution or whatever, you can ask your landlord nicely and sometimes they’ll help you out. If the lights are out in the common space, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix them.
Washing windows. You could argue this falls under general “maintenance” and therefore is your landlord’s responsibility. Check your lease, as always. This is one of the more irritating tasks that landlords sometimes foist upon their tenants – but there are some reasonably priced window-washing companies in New York.
Putting up/taking down screens. This is technically not your landlord’s responsibility, unless otherwise specified in the lease.
If you are unsure about whether a repair is your landlord’s responsibility, the first step is to request – in writing – that he or she performs the work. A written request allows you to make your point succinctly and convincingly, and also gives your landlord time to think it over. A physical correspondence with your landlord also provides evidence in case you ever want to take legal action. Before you do, always make an application to the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal for an official determination as to whether the service is legally mandated or not.
You can never overestimate the power of a good relationship with your landlord. Try your best to be courteous and polite, remember that they deal with many request for other little repairs from other tenants every day. If you manage to finesse a good relationship with your landlord, you may just find them installing shelves out of the goodness of their heart. But don’t get your hopes up.