No heat no hot water for 10 days, no end in sight (NYC)
December 27, 2019 4:42 PM   Subscribe

10 days ago, the basement in our NYC apartment building flooded. It was then discovered that 4 of the gas lines to our 8-apartment building have leaks in them (more on that inside). Gas was shut off to the building and there is no end in sight. We just received an email from the landlord asking us to pay January rent. Please help.

Their letter states:"After careful discussion regarding the pending rent concessions, we are requesting that all Tenants pay their January rent in full in order to help alleviate the extremely expensive gas repairs. Once decided on proper concessions, all rent adjustments will take place this February 2020. We feel this will be a fair compromise and we hope you agree."

That's neither fair nor a compromise. And it's not my problem that the repairs are expensive. We need help.

We are in New York City.

My wife reported a gas smell to the gas company earlier this year. Because the gas company could not access the basement and couldn't get a hold of the landlords, they were unable to confirm the gas leak. That night, my wife received an angry call from our landlord demanding to know why she would have called the gas company. We have since learned that another tenant had a plumber discover a gas leak in her place 2 years ago(!), but the landlords failed to act. So that's terrifying.

So a few days before Christmas, gas leaks are officially discovered, and once the gas is off, it's not coming on until all of the lines are fixed and the city is able to run tests and give their approval, which is almost impossible to predict when that will happen.

They have provided us with 2 space heaters and a hot plate, but we are without hot water, and legally that makes our apartment uninhabitable. Let alone that the space heaters don't really keep our apartment at the legally-required 68 degrees, and there's nothing like a cold shower in December in New York.

What concrete steps should we take at this moment? What should we NOT do? In terms of concessions, which the landlords alluded to but have not gotten specific about, what should we expect/demand? We haven't responded to this email yet. We have been in close contact with the other tenants and we are all sticking together and seeking out the best outcome for the tenants of the building.

I'm angry that they ignored warning of gas smells, running out of patience and am not in the mood be accommodating as I normally would be.

please hope me!
posted by Sreiny to Law & Government (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing to do in NYC is generally to call 311. They should be able to direct you and they can also tell you how many complaints have been made in the past.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:50 PM on December 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

NYC guide to required repairs and maintenance.

NYS Attorney General Tenant Rights Guide.
posted by brookeb at 4:57 PM on December 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

To see what complaints have been registered for your building try HPD Online. Data is always useful in these situations.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:09 PM on December 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wouldn’t renew my lease in a place where they’re covering up gas leaks. I know there are always reasons, but do you want to end up like those poor bastards in the EV? You can’t put a price on not being blown up.

In the meantime, keep careful records of all conditions that violate the warranty of habitability and all expenses related to them. You may be in for a LONG wait on Con Ed. In the end, given their attitude, you’re probably going to have to get a lawyer to represent the tenants’ interests. Your lease will say something about habitability, but it may not accurately represent your statutory rights. Of course, hiring a lawyer will mean no renewal of your lease, but, again, not getting blown up should be your priority here! (I’m assuming that none of the units are rent-stabilized; if they are, DHCR may take an interest.)
posted by praemunire at 5:52 PM on December 27, 2019

I won't threadsit, but I wanted to note that we are in a 2-year lease that began in October and are rent-stabilized.
posted by Sreiny at 5:57 PM on December 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you tried calling the Met Council on Housing hotline yet? This app from Just Fix may also be helpful.
posted by pinochiette at 5:59 PM on December 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

File a complaint with DHCR here:

Note the process requirements. I think it is HPD who certifies no heat or hot water. Good luck!
posted by praemunire at 6:14 PM on December 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

(But I still would want to move out!)
posted by praemunire at 6:15 PM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

As you can probably tell by the replies so far, you're going to be running two parallel tracks here: (1) Dealing with the immediate lack of services and demand for rent, and (2) gathering information for a longer-term fight with this landlord. Because they're not going to stop being a shitty landlord after this incident has passed.
On track (1), I agree with the advice already given regarding 311 and DHCR, and would add: Lawyer up if you can. Tenants' rights org The Met Council on Housing has some info on finding a housing lawyer.
On track (2), you'll want to create a timeline of building issues and interactions with your landlord, with as much supporting evidence (emails, text messages) as possible. And in addition to the HPD online search suggested above by sciencegeek, you can find info about your building's history of complaints & violations by searching the NYC Dept of Buildings Building Information System. And you can check to see if your landlord is on the NYC Public Advocate's watchlist of worst landlords.
Good luck.
posted by D.Billy at 6:37 PM on December 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry. This is terrible and unfortunately can take a long time to get fixed. The City does not give a damn about tenants living in these kinds of conditions.

First call 311 to get an inspection by the city and file a rent reduction application with DHCR. You can do those now, without a lawyer. Keep records of all expenses you incur--hot meals, heaters, blankets, etc.

You can file a individual HP action in housing court for repairs. (You can also file a group HP with the other tenants.) You can do this without a lawyer, but I suggest looking around for a lawyer.

As for January rent, if you don't pay it, all they can do is sue you for non-payment of rent. That's not risk-free because of the tenant blacklist, but they have to give you a 14-day notice before they can actually sue you.

I wouldn't give up a RS apartment without a hell of a fight.
posted by Mavri at 6:39 PM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

So, just FYI, once Con Ed disconnects there is often a serious wait while it reinspects, etc. This was true even in the relatively expensive market rate condo I once rented. So it’s not like you can withhold rent to make repairs yourself. No one can do anything without the Con Ed reconnection. It can be very frustrating (and then the landlord may not try very hard to facilitate things). Since I believe DHCR can issue rent adjustments once the condition is established, I would not withhold rent—going into HP court pro se to defend an eviction action will be a huge hassle and probably won’t get you a better result. Though it will certainly open your eyes as to how the other half lives if you’re not already in that half.

BTW, if your landlord communicates with you in a negative way again because you sought to remedy unsafe conditions, or for exercising your rights now, make a record. Record if they’re in person or if you’re sure they’re calling from in state (NY is a one party consent state). If not, write everything down. That’s likely tenant harassment and also illegal. The law was just changed to lower the bar on what’s required to show that harassment.
posted by praemunire at 7:04 PM on December 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Have they made the repairs? That would very much affect my decision here. I'd be concerned about paying rent and they don't fix it and you all get booted out and are out the money. If they're so short on funds are they paying to mortgage on the building? If they're good with the bank and the city and have a licensed, bonded company maming repaira I'd pay but ask for a writtem commitment to february concessions OR an Air BnB now first. If not I'd keep my money and start looking for a new place but at that point you're committed to finding one and moving and also to getting the place declared uninhabitable and breaking your lease that way so you don't get blacklisted
posted by fshgrl at 8:34 PM on December 27, 2019

we went through a similar situation (you wouldn't happen to be living in chinatown, would you? that's where we were). here's my ask about it. hope there's some useful info there. note that our situation was lower-priority because we still had heat and hot water, just not cooking gas. your landlord is currently breaking the law by failing to provide a habitable apartment, so you will be able to activate the higher-priority services available through the city.

ok, here's the info dump. hardball dump below that.

- the dhcr is the office which is responsible for the rent-stabilized lease. take a look at their fact sheet on your rights.

upshot: you should file either form RA-81 (faster, but it's only for you) or RA-84 (slower, but it's for the whole building) as soon as you can.

if you go for RA-84, you'll want to organize with other tenants. we ended up writing and circulating a letter to all the tenants in the building, and we formed a mini organizing committee with our neighbor. this is important for RA-84 because it's more powerful if you have more tenants on board. it's essentially a petition, you want more signatures.

filing that will kick off a VERY SLOW process, i hear it's a little faster if you don't have heat/hot water. but for us it took 9 months to even get a "hey we saw your form and will get back to you some time soon" letter.

- HPD is responsible for inspecting NYC buildings separately from the DHCR. i don't know if those two communicate, but they can certainly write your landlord a ticket. they're faster at sending inspectors, ours came in a couple weeks. i would strongly advise that you involve them in order to feed the paper trail. more on that below.

- the attorney general is nice and all but probably won't go anywhere fast; we filed a form with them (sorry, i can't find which one). got a confirmation number but nothing else.

- 311 is good; it's better if more people call to complain. collect all the confirmation numbers if you organize with other tenants.

- CITY COUNCILPERSON. i called our city rep's office and they were very helpful. they offered to coach other tenants on how to call in 311 complaints and they had a lot more useful stuff. ultimately they couldn't do much for us, but it was because most of our building didn't speak english and didn't end up calling them. still very useful for organizing.

- ConEd is completely useless in my experience. i called them 3 times trying to figure out what was wrong and they outright refused to talk to me about the gas leaks, citing "confidentiality agreements" and saying that i would have to be the landlord's agent. waste of time, but you might fare differently.

ending the info dump, starting the I-Am-Not-A-Lawyer hardball dump. this is for your consideration; i urge you to speak with a lawyer and see what they think of it all. if i could do it all again i would have played a lot harder than i did.

point blank: DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING THAT YOUR LANDLORD GIVES YOU and DOCUMENT EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS FROM HERE ON OUT. your lease is the ONLY document you need, anything else they try to get you to agree to is only damaging to your position. our landlord tried to circulate "agreement" forms where we would sign the statement that we "understood that repairs take a long time and we're ok with everything". i did not sign. you are NEVER obligated to sign anything. again, the only legal document that matters between you and your landlord is your lease. don't give them anything more. Collect all the complaint numbers, letters from landlord, everything, in case you end up in court. More documentation is always better.

first, take a look at the NYC court's implied warranty of habitability. note that it says that, in the case that you continue to pay rent in full, you can sue later for a retroactive abatement.

OF COURSE your landlord thinks it's fair and reasonable for you to keep paying rent in full. yes, the dhcr says that you need to get your RA-81/RA-84 forms approved in order to get a rent reduction. but you know what? your landlord is deep in the shit bucket, and they have a very limited time to make things right. as people have noted above, and i can confirm, these repairs will take a long time. even if the landlord had the money right now and started on the repairs yesterday, it could take months or even years to complete. our former landlord actually abandoned the gas piping system and instead installed 240V electric lines and electric ranges in the building, because apparently the entire pipe system needed to get replaced for ConEd to sign off on it. so your landlord is bleeding money, and they're not gonna play nice if/when you don't give it all to them.

you know what? fuck em. why should you give your landlord an interest-free loan while you're showering in ice water in the middle of the winter??? talk to a lawyer and see if you can do something like this:

- start searching for a new apartment, but no need to rush. you still get to see what happens with the current situation
- send your landlord a (wordsmithed) letter saying "due to reduced services and uninhabitability, i will be paying XX% of the rent until services are restored"
- pay them XX%, deposit the remainder in a dedicated bank account (this is important, if it goes to court you need to be able to show the statements proving that you had the money, you were just withholding a portion. if the court orders you to pay, you pay out of that account and keep the rest)
- if/when you find another apartment, you make a decision: does it look like the current situation is fixable? if not, you simply cut your losses. notify your landlord that you're terminating your residence, return the keys, etc. etc. yes, it will go to court. but in this specific case, you have a very strong hand: no heat, no hot water, landlord hasn't fixed it for X amount of time. it's up to you to decide if you want to go down the legal path, it is definitely a waste of time. but is it as much of a waste of time as staying in this place for 2 years?

in our case, our lease was ending, so we didn't have to make that decision. we just didn't renew. you have a lawyer-worthy situation here, and i won't pretend to be the expert, but i'll just say: 1 year later and our former building only fixed the problem a couple months ago. even though we moved out totally legally, i haven't gotten a single cent of my security deposit back. so i'm going to be going to court regardless. in retrospect, i should have just gotten a jump on the whole thing instead of continuing to pay full rent for 5 months like a chump. if a lawyer thinks that something like the above is viable, i STRONGLY advocate for you to do that, despite it not adhering to the letter of the law. life is too short to get fucked over by nyc landlords.
posted by =d.b= at 8:59 PM on December 27, 2019 [26 favorites]

Call the NY Post. If children or elderly are involved, they will shame agencies into getting involved.
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 10:01 PM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Came here to make =dB=‘s city council suggestion although response will vary by who your CM is and how well you fit into the demographic that supports their political power.

I would presume the concessions would be a rent adjustment to cover the fact that the apartment has been uninhabitable for 30% of a month. Like you note it’s not really your concern that the landlord hasn’t been putting away some of their profits for this very rainy day and I think you’re very right to be wary that giving them all of January will substantially help resolve the situation by the time you get your promised (however vaguely) February concessions. It doesn’t sound like you have a big corporate landlord which is sometimes a good thing but in this case maybe not.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:47 AM on December 28, 2019

Agreed that tenants should not have to pay interest free loans of scumbag unprepared landlords. Let them go out and float a loan with their gas free collateral, fix their mess, then prorate for tenants.

My suggestion is you do all due diligence on calling the numbers suggested above and keep calling till there is response. My second suggestion is to put the facts of the matter in writing, and send it to all the agencies you contact, with a cc to your landlord, as well as a notarized letter stating that you have put the rent in a separate account similar to an escrow account, available immediately when the issue is resolved. If you can get letters or some consensus from your fellow tenants, that would be even better. If no response in 3 days, lawyer up.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

If your blood is up and you are ready to have a court battle (and don’t mind ending up on the tenant blacklist), by all means, withhold rent and Godspeed. But I wouldn’t take blithe advice on the subject from anyone who hadn’t been through the eviction proceeding process. HP court is a miserable experience even when you’re in the right.
posted by praemunire at 4:26 PM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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