It's either this or they burn their rent checks
November 8, 2011 6:26 PM   Subscribe

NYC renters filter, asking for a friend: calling 311 over repeated and frequent lack of heat and hot water isn't working, as the landlord is a flagrant scofflaw. A lawsuit seems to be the next step - any advice from others who've taken that step?

My friends are now going on two weeks with no heat and lukewarm-to-cold water. This is not the first such incident in this apartment and with this landlord, who seems inept at best and indifferent at worst. They have repeatedly and nearly DAILY called 311 to complain -- they actually have SEVERAL open complaints with the HPD and the department of health -- but the landlord keeps the basement locked specifically to keep the HPD and the Building Department OUT, and flagrantly ignores the fees and notices of fines that they've sent him. So there's nothing further that calling 311 can do.

Moreover, moving is not an option, as it's a rent-stabilized apartment in a very desirable neighborhood, and they would have to move to a far smaller place in a far more dangerous neighborhood; while meanwhile, the landlord would simply jack up the rent 20% and fill it easily, and someone else would be stuck with the problem.

They want to sue. They want advice on how to do that, from people who've done so successfully. We all know you are not lawyers, and that what you offer is just anecdotal advice. Still, any tips?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first and most obvious tip is that suing will make the tenant have a public record of being a "problem tenant" for future landlords' background checks. Better to put rent money in an escrow account until the problems are resolved.
posted by dfriedman at 6:38 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your friend is rent stabilized, and unless things have changed, this is exactly what the Dept of Housing and Community Renewal is for.

Document. Fill out the forms. Wait for action.

- Your friend wants to go into their office in person with their lease and have them check the rent history. Your friend could get lucky and find out they're being overcharged. Worth looking at.

- Your friend wants to document EVERY default in the apartment and in the building with pics and other evidence.

My memory has it that DHCR has considerable power to issue really big fines and such.

Forms are on this page.

Borough office addresses are at the bottom of the first page I linked to. An appointment is not necessary, but call their main number to confirm. Your friend must show up organized with documentation because my memory is the folks in the office are pretty efficient and nonsense.
posted by jbenben at 6:47 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

"every DEFECT" thanks, auto-correct!
posted by jbenben at 6:47 PM on November 8, 2011

They can file an HP action in housing court, which is a suit by a tenant against a landlord for repairs. A representative from HPD will be in court, and they will have a standard consent order that both parties can sign that will set a schedule for repairs. The landlord will almost certainly fail to comply with the agreement if it has a history of being a scofflaw. It's a really frustrating process.

Before your friend withholds rent, they should google tenant blacklist. Lawyers are working on eliminating the blacklist, but it's still a real thing. If you want a list of tenant attorneys, memail me. I'm a legal services attorney, so I cannot help your friend, but I get nothing from referring you to the private bar.
posted by Mavri at 6:53 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your friends lack heat and hot water, so do their neighbors. Can they organize the building? Withholding rent will be far more effective if everyone does it.
posted by the_blizz at 7:04 PM on November 8, 2011

What seems to have worked for my apartment building was getting our city councilperson involved, ditto a neighborhood newspaper. The program that the building is in is called Proactive Preservation Initiative.

I'm totally bewildered at the uselessness of HPD - they're great at taking complaints via 311, but they seem to do absolutely nothing after that. The court system also seems to be relatively useless, but it may be another way to get your building listed as 7a which is where an outside entity will take over management of your building.

For future reference for others looking for information about HPD violations in a building, HPD online will provide you with a list of violations - both open and closed - for your viewing pleasure. I strongly advise anyone looking for a rental to use this site to make sure you're not ending up with a problem landlord/property.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:07 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Organizing with their neighbors" is a step they're going to try, I think. One problem there is that other tenants have had a lot less patience and a lot more impetus to move, so there's a longevity issue in some cases.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 PM on November 8, 2011

Good news is: there's no reinventing the wheel here! Bad news is: there's a lot to learn about housing part actions. More good news! You don't necessarily need a lawyer, and people will help you.

Start now.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:43 AM on November 9, 2011

Just talked with one of the two friends and have a followup: the Housing Board finally brought their own suit against the guy, and they now have hot water. But a lot of the other things they've had pending against the guy are still pending, so they're thinking of moving anyway just because they're sick of the hassle.

They did check this site and were grateful for your thoughts, so thanks from me too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on December 4, 2011

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