Living in New York City is full of situations where you’re forced to do more with less, whether that means living a studio apartment that could better be described as a generously-sized walk-in closet, or having a “kitchen” that’s really just a mini-fridge and a tiny oven that’s barely functional.
But there are many basic necessities—things like heat, hot water, safety measures, and more—that your landlord is required to provide in a rental unit, no matter how small or quirky your apartment may be.
To get some insight on what you can reasonably expect a landlord to provide in your NYC rental, we turned to Geoffrey Wertime, a Skadden Fellow at Housing Works, Inc. Client Legal Services. (And the usual caveat applies: While we consulted a lawyer, this shouldn’t be taken as legal advice—if you need to find an actual tenants’ rights lawyer because of an issue with your landlord, we’ve got tips to help you do just that.)
“Landlords are required to provide heat for their tenants from October 1 through May 31,” says Wertime. The standard rule is that if the temperature outside is below 55 degrees, it must be at least 68 degrees in your apartment. If your landlord won’t turn on the heat, Wertime recommends this precaution: “Get a thermometer and mark down the temperature each day, along with the date, to prepare for any future actions.”
Landlords who operate multiple-dwelling units are required to provide running water at all times—no exceptions. (But it also shouldn’t be boiling water.) “For smaller buildings, landlords must provide hot water from 6 a.m. to midnight each day,” Wertime says.
Fire and carbon monoxide detectors
The rules for these important tools can vary by type of housing (multiple-dwelling vs. two-family, etc.) but basically: Landlords must provide tenants both carbon monoxide and smoke detectors that are approved and functional, and must also replace them if necessary. There are exceptions, though—tenants also have a responsibility with smoke and CO detectors, which HPD outlines in full.
“Landlords may never harass their tenants,” Wertime says. “[And] tenants have a right to organize to protect their rights.” HPD has examples of what harassment may entail—things like illegal lockouts or doing construction work when it’s not permitted—along with tips on how to fight back if necessary.
If you want to install a lock on your apartment door in addition to what’s already there, you’re allowed to do so—and according to Wertime, landlords cannot charge an additional fee for it. And one thing to note: “A landlord may never change the locks to a tenant's apartment without going through the proper eviction process,” Wertime says. If that happens, be prepared to go to Housing Court to fight it.
“Landlords must generally keep interior surfaces covered and sanitary, even if that requires repainting or new wallpaper,” says Wertime. Apartments in multiple-dwelling buildings must must be repainted every three years.
“Landlords face a host of obligations regarding lead paint abatement,” notes Wertime, and the HPD runs down what that entails. If you suspect that your apartment has lead paint, lodge a complaint with the city via 311 or this website.
If you’ve got roaches or mice—eek!—here’s some good news: your landlord is responsible for getting rid of ’em. “Landlords must promptly respond to tenant complaints of pests, and must take appropriate measures to exterminate bedbugs, rodents, and other pests,” explains Wertime. (And yes, that means paying to exterminate.)
Landlords are also required to tell potential tenants if their building has had bedbugs within the past year under the NYC Bedbug Disclosure Act.
“Landlords must provide basic security,” Wertime notes. That means locks on doors, working intercoms, and—in some cases—in-person security. “Older multiple dwellings must also have automatic self-locking doors, but only need intercoms if a majority of tenants request one, in which case the landlord can pass the cost onto the tenants,” says Wertime. Fascinating!
“Landlords must collect and remove waste from designated areas and provide janitorial services,” says Wertime. Your building should have a distinct area for trash and recycling, and if common areas are a mess, you can lodge a complaint with 311.
You’ve seen this notice when renting an apartment—if a child under the age of 11 lives in an apartment, a landlord must install window guards. (Other tenants can request them, too.)
Methods of payment
Under the NYC Human Rights law, landlords are required to accept all legal sources of income from their tenants. That includes Section 8 vouchers, and LINC or HASA subsidies (among others). “A stunning number of landlords continue to exclude public assistance recipients, which is a clear violation of the law and is called source of income discrimination,” says Wertime. “Anyone who encounters this kind of discrimination should contact an attorney or go to the New York City Commission on Human Rights to report it.”
What about taking action?
“Tenants should complain about any problems in writing, and keep a written record of when they complained, who they spoke to, and what was said,” Wertime explains. “If a landlord refuses to fix a problem, tenants can call 311 or go to the 311 website to make a complaint, or they can contact an attorney or even go to Housing Court on their own.” And it goes without saying—getting your own lawyer who specializes in tenants’ rights is also a smart move.