Must a NYC landlord pay to repair an oven?
January 6, 2008 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Is our New York City landlord responsible for repairing our broken oven?

I understand that y'all are not our lawyers and any responses are not legal advice.

Here's the situation: We live in the first floor of a two-family house in Brooklyn. The owners of the building live upstairs. We write rent checks to their daughter, and our lease agreement specifies her as the landlord.

Our oven has been behaving erratically for the past six months. More recently, we purchased an oven thermometer to confirm its behavior. What happens is this: it preheats, usually to about 25 or 50 degrees lower than the entered temperature (which is fine: I understand that most ovens aren't precisely calibrated--we can just set it higher). After it preheats, it begins losing heat rapidly, and you can tell from the sudden stop in the low hissing sound associated with preheating that it is no longer generating heat. The temperature often drops to 200 degrees in just a few minutes. If we turn the heat up further, sometimes the oven will start generating heat again. Sometimes it stays cold and silent. We occasionally have to turn the broiler on (which seems to "reset" it, sometimes) or cool it down to room temperature before we can get it to heat up again.

We bake a lot and have been roasting a lot of vegetables, so an oven which can't hold heat for more than a few minutes is seriously unusable.

All of which is a long way of saying that our oven is broken. Our landlord (that is, the daughter of the couple upstairs, who by the way don't speak much English, so we very rarely deal with them) responded to our email complaint and request for repair last month by saying that while she's glad to find a repairman, her father has had the same oven for 7 years and it's working fine, and ours was new when we moved in 3 years ago, so she doesn't think it's fair for her to pay for repairs.

Our question is, does she have to? More specifically, can you direct me towards a clear and authoritative source that says that this is her responsibility?

I have found a few things, but nothing definite. The New York Attorney General's office tenants rights guide makes reference to a landlord's duty of repair laid out in the multiple dwelling law, but the section he references isn't explicit at all and the law isn't clear whether our apartment is really a "multiple dwelling" (since it has fewer than 3 apartments).

This explanation of tenants' rights more explicitly says that our landlord has a duty to repair appliances, but it's really a document about rent stabilized and rent controlled apartments, and ours isn't.

Our lease says the following, which sounds pretty bad, I wish I had read better when signing, and I can only hope that it's not legal for us to sign away rights in the lease that we are guaranteed by law:

"11. MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR; RULES. Tenant will, at its sole expense, keep and maintain the Premises and appurtenances in good and sanitary condition and repair during the term of this Agreement and any renewal thereof. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, Tenant shall:" and then it has a long list of responsibilities about things like not blocking the driveway, not hanging laundry, not putting ashes down the sink, not playing the radio too loud, etc., but nothing about the appliances. "Appurtenances" is not defined elsewhere in the lease.

Notwithstanding all the above unclear evidence, all the New Yorkers we've talked to have said that of course she's responsible for paying, and we'd be entirely within our rights to get a repairman and just take the cost out of our rent. Are they all wrong?

I think that covers all the background. I can follow up with any more information if it's still not enough to decide what the situation means.

Thanks for any and all help or suggestions. Again, while I really do trust you guys, what I really need is something official I can point her to.

(Help with the oven problem independently would be great too. The self clean function seems to be broken (nothing happens when we push the buttom). I bought some oven cleaner and cleaned all the sides but the bottle specifically says not to clean the heating elements, so that didn't feel productive and anyway doesn't seem to have helped. It's a Magic Chef, with a gas stove on top and digital temerature entry. The heating element for the broiler is in the roof of the oven (and it works fine), and the element for regular baking is below a panel in the floor of the oven. Any idea what a repair might cost?)
posted by rustcellar to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Notwithstanding all the above unclear evidence, all the New Yorkers we've talked to have said that of course she's responsible for paying, and we'd be entirely within our rights to get a repairman and just take the cost out of our rent. Are they all wrong?

Don't do that without getting your landlord's okay first - in Toronto that's grounds for eviction. It' seems a bit odd to me that you would do all this research and everything instead of first simply asking your landlord to fix the oven. You can certainly suggest that you take care of having it fixed and do the rent deduction thing, but I'd only resort to that if the landlord is taking awhile to fix a problem.
posted by orange swan at 11:40 AM on January 6, 2008

Sorry - I somehow missed the part where you did ask your landlord and she said she doesn't think it's fair for her to have to pay for repairs! Duh. Ignore the "it seems a bit odd" comment.
posted by orange swan at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2008

orange swan, they did ask the landlord:

"Our landlord... responded to our email complaint and request for repair last month by saying that while she's glad to find a repairman, her father has had the same oven for 7 years and it's working fine, and ours was new when we moved in 3 years ago, so she doesn't think it's fair for her to pay for repairs."
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:43 AM on January 6, 2008

Hmm. Well, that'll teach me to not use preview.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:44 AM on January 6, 2008

get a repairman and just take the cost out of our rent

I'll just say that you should never deduct from rent without professional or official advice first. In many states under many circumstances it is grounds for eviction. I don't know if it is in New York under these circumstances, but even if I told you it wasn't you shouldn't take my word for it without checking.
posted by grouse at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2008

Regardless of the landlady's opinion of whether the oven should be repaired after 3 or 7 years, she isn't qualified to make that opinion. If the oven is part of the property, it is her responsibility to maintain it. If she thinks it shouldn't need repairing, she should take it up with the manufacturer, nit bury her head in the sand.

The oven clearly needs repairing. The upkeep of the apartment and its fittings is the landlords responsibility. End of ambiguity. You rented a place with a working oven. The oven no longer works, and it is up to her to get it fixed. Using one other oven as a working example as to why yours doesn't need repairing is stupid.
posted by Brockles at 12:09 PM on January 6, 2008

Best answer: Here is some info. Time to call 311.
posted by caddis at 12:10 PM on January 6, 2008

Even if you did break the oven (which I know you didn't), unless you were ignoring some kind of instruction she gave you she's responsible. I would think.
posted by xammerboy at 12:18 PM on January 6, 2008

Is it possible that you are misinterpreting her response? It kind of sounds like she's complaining about a warranty or lack of one, but since you paraphrased, it's hard to tell. Did she ever actually say she wouldn't pay?
posted by sageleaf at 12:21 PM on January 6, 2008

Best answer: We have a Magic Chef oven that does the exact same thing. What seems to work is to turn on a burner, as low as possible, while preheating the oven. Just having gas flowing through the system keeps it from going off when it gets to the right temperature. YMMV.
posted by bendy at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2008

Do you have the model number of your Magic Chef? The more recent units are made by Maytag and some models seem to have similar problems. See here, here, here and here for starters.

This type of problem history that others have experienced might help your case with the landlord. She does have the responsibility for fixing it, in any case.
posted by jeanmari at 12:25 PM on January 6, 2008

Your LL is likely breaching your warranty of habitability. A warranty of habitability can be used defensively to an action (as it is in the link I provided) or affirmatively in what's known as an HP action. The method for commencing an HP is to be found here. Make sure you follow all the instructions about notice and documentation before you commence your suit. Also, be careful with repair and deduct, because unless you do it right, you can wind up stuck with the bill for the repairs at the end of the day.

If you wish to avoid litigation at this stage, you can call 311 as caddis suggests. Just remember that, because a broken oven is not an emergency repair, you might not get immediate satisfaction. Litigation won't give you immediate satisfaction either, but you can schedule an inspection as part of your HP. Also, please remember that any conflict, be it calling the city or starting an HP, will likely result in dramatically less civil relations with your landlord. If you decide to sue, and want a little legal advice before you walk into court, stop on the second floor of the housing court, at 141 Livingston Street, and speak with the Task Force people.*
*All of the above information is readily available on the internet, and is not legal advice from me to you or any one else, nor does it create any kind of lawyer-client relationship between me and any reader.
posted by lassie at 12:42 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

The way I see it you have 3 options, all ugly:

1) Pay for the oven to be repaired yourself. This is the best option if you're getting a great deal on the rent and love the place other than this one issue.

2) Fight with the landlord over who is going to repair it, while not having an oven while the fight goes on.

3) Move out. If a landlord refuses to repair a property, you can just leave with no legal penalty. The type of repair determines how long a tenant must wait before this option becomes available. Plumbing / water leaking issues generally must be fixed within hours (like 72, 48 or such depending on locale). Electrical / gas issues that are also safety concerns are similarly speedy. Non-safety related repair is the longest, and you may want to consult a real-estate attorney for exact detail.

I've actually used option 3 before. I've been lucky in that in all other circumstances I've been able to get the landlord to do repairs. I also do any minor repairs myself. I've only ever lived in a place run by someone with limited command of English once. I will never do it again.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 4:04 PM on January 6, 2008

My experience with NY landlords, they screw you left and right. If it were me, and this is illegal advice, I would bitch, bitch and bitch, and if official channels failed me, then on my way out I would not pay the last two month's rent, tell the landlord to take that out of the security deposit and claim the oven repair and quite a few other issues against that sum. Anyone within spitting distance of the city who pays the last month's rent rather than apply the security deposit is a fool. The bulk of the landlords are crooks and the penalty for not paying the last month's rent is low. They will try to soak you for the whole thing, so turn it against them. (If you are a tenant in my building then ignore this advice as I am the landlord from heaven.) Again, this is really, really bad advice, but that is what I would do, and what I always did, and paid zero penalty for it. Well, the first couple of time I didn't and then, oh boy, what a penalty I paid. You have been warned.
posted by caddis at 6:44 PM on January 6, 2008

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