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Beat The Deep Freeze

Bennett Baumer Jan 13, 2008

By Bennett Baumer

As temperatures plunge, many New York City tenants will break out their ski masks, wool gloves, long-underwear and down coats — just to stay warm inside their apartments.

New York City’s Housing Maintenance Code requires that landlords provide hot water year round and heat from October through May when it’s cold. Not having heat and hot water during the winter can turn deadly for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Below are helpful tips to getting the heat and hot water turned on:

Keep one thermometer outside and one or two inside your apartment to measure the temperature. Between Oct. 1 and May 3, if the outside temperature (from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature must be at least 68 degrees everywhere in your apartment. If the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees from 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the inside temperature must be at least 55 degrees.

If you lack either heat or hot water:

• Keep a log to accurately document when you were without heat and hot water. You can call Met Council on Housing for a copy of a log at 212-979-0611 or download it at http://metcouncil.net/factsheets.

• Call your super and write a certified letter to the landlord. • Call 311 and encourage your neighbors to call and report the problem. The more calls from a building, the quicker the city will respond to the problem.

• If you experience extended periods of no heat or hot water, you can deduct money from the rent (usually a day’s rent for every day without heat and hot water) or withhold rent completely. Consult an attorney or tenant organizer before doing this.

Lack of heat and hot water is a class “C” housing code violation — the most serious class of violations. If the Department of Housing Preservation and Development records a heat and hot water violation and you are rent regulated, you should also file a rent reduction application with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal along with a printout of the city’s violation finding.

You can also file an emergency HP (Housing Part) action in housing court. This is when a tenant sues the landlord for repairs and housing code violations. A judge will order the landlord to turn the heat on or face civil penalties. In the worst cases the city can make emergency repairs to your building’s boiler and heating system.

Contact a tenants’ rights organization to organize your neighbors. Collective action will always get the best results.

Bennett Baumer is an organizer with Housing Conservation Coordinators.

Illustration by Brian Ponto