You vs. the landlord: who has to pay?

Joe probably had poor landlord-tenant relations

Living in New York City means we are paying more than our fair share of rent, but it doesn’t mean we have to pay even more money for conditions or repairs that are not our responsibility. The following is a short guide to what you should and should not pay for when you have certain apartment troubles. It’s intended for market-rate buildings, which is what most of us live in these days. Unlike in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled buildings, market-rate tenants do not have many rights besides the Warrant of Habitability and court precedents. But there are certain things that need to come out of your landlord’s pockets, not yours.

NOTE: This article is based off of my experience in government community work and should NOT be a substitution for legal advice!

If you…

…have uninvited guests who are small, furry and/or invertebrate:

DON’T PAY
It is the landlord’s responsibility to eradicate vermin in your apartment. Even bedbugs. Also, it is not your duty to pay for adjacent apartments that have become infested, whether the issue stems from your unit or not.

PAY
Your landlord does not have to compensate you for property you had to dispose of because of the issue unless it was due to their negligence — which is something you would have to argue in court.

…are sweating in your living room more than a vegan in Paula Deen’s kitchen.

PAY
Sorry, kids. Landlords are not required to provide you with any sort of air-conditioning, whether it is central or via window unit unless it is specified in your lease.

DON’T PAY
to install heat. Landlords are required to provide heat in order to maintain specific temperatures at certain times of year. There’s nothing in state or city law that says landlords cannot charge you for heat. Most do not, but again, take a look at your lease just to make sure.

…are subject to a symphony of clacking heels and vibrating bass from above:

DON’T PAY
Before going to the landlord about your neighbors, try having a conversation with them about the noise. They might be nice people who will turn the music down and be more conscious of their indoor footwear choices. If they do not make any efforts to improve the situation, speak to the landlord, as it is ultimately his/her responsibility to foster a livable environment for you in exchange for money. Many leases have a rule that’s rarely enforced requiring all tenants to cover at least 80 percent of their flooring with carpet/rugs — it’s rarely enforced, but could be in these situations. If the landlord enforces the rug rule and the noise is still unbearable, you can request installation of insulation in the ceiling. Again, it’s not your responsibility to pay if you are dealing with excessive noise. If you really do not want to involve the landlord, but wish to consult an outside party, check out the free mediation services at the Brooklyn Mediation Center: (718) 834-6671.

BUT, if you are new to Brooklyn, remember that this is NYC and some ambient noise is expected.

…clogged the toilet after “your friend” flushed too many extra-long overnight super-plus pads down the toilet (or by any other means).

DON’T PAY
Most of the time, your landlord will send a plumber over and you won’t have to pay.

BUT, it’s conceivable that you could have to cover costs if the damage is not due to, ahem, normal use. While it’s definitely in your landlord’s best interest to make sure you’re not kickin’ it old school with your chamber pot, if the clog was due to some irregular use, you may have to incur the charges.

…are able to microwave popcorn for thirty minutes without the sultry siren song of a smoke detector.

PAY
Technically, the landlord can charge you up to $10 for a new device. Seriously. And you have to pay for batteries.

DON’T PAY
Tenants have the right to have working smoke detectors in their apartments less than 10 feet from the rooms they sleep in. If your’s breaks, ask your landlord to replace it ASAP. They are liable for repair costs during the first year of use as long as the damage is not your fault.

…have to truck your own PBR cans and unopened credit card offers to the local recycling plant

DON’T PAY
Recycling is the law in NYC. Your landlord must provide a place for tenants to leave their recyclables.

BUT, it is your responsibility to make sure trash is sorted correctly.

…want your wall painted that dark green color you will regret when the S.A.D. kicks in come November:

PAY
Landlords are not required to paint your apartment for cosmetic reasons.

DON’T PAY
If there was a repair or damage to the wall caused by building/maintenance issues and not your failed attempts at shelving installation, then the landlord should paint.

…think your building’s hallway would be a sweet place for your end table and extra lamps instead of the storage place that charges more than many people pay for rooms in smaller cities:

PAY
If you get lucky with an apathetic/easy-going landlord, they might let it slide, but they are under no obligation to let you keep personal items in common areas. If your stuff is blocking a fire exit, or “secondary egress” in agency speak, then your landlord could get a violation if the Fire Department makes a visit to the building. Sorry to say you’ll have to pay for some storage or cram your stuff under the bed.

…think your apartment might actually be rent stabilized and you are getting a raw deal.

DON’T PAY
File a request with New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal to get your rent history. If it turns out the apartment is classified as rent stabilized, you may be entitled to a refund of your overpayments.

_________

If your landlord does not respond to your issue in a timely fashion or refuses to pay for what they are supposed to pay for, call 311 to report the issue. Take it to the max and follow up with your local elected officials in the City Council, State Senate and Assembly. Call all three and tell each that you have called the other two for best results. They will be your best resources on course of action, and can point you towards the best free legal help should you need it.

9 Comment

  • “PAY
    Landlords are not required to paint your apartment for cosmetic reasons.”

    On a related note, by law, who is required to bring trash and recycling to the curb on trash days?

    Does size of the building matter?

  • oops, meant to quote this:

    “DON’T PAY
    Recycling is the law in NYC. Your landlord must provide a place for tenants to leave their recyclables.”

  • What about deposits? If you write a check for a deposit and it’s not used as the last month’s rent, what’s the law on getting it back? I’m asking because I think my landlord may attempt to “deduct” from it to pay for imaginary “damage.”

  • @B,

    You’re supposed to get that deposit back. Make sure you go over those “damages” with him in person.

    That’s why I never pay the last month’s rent, always use the deposit. Many landlords will bitch and moan about using the deposit as the last months rent but there’s nothing they can do about that!

  • Pingback: Tenant Vs. The Landlord | Gowanus Your Face Off

  • In Brooklyn, who has to pay for security bars on the first floor windows? I found a lot of info on window guards to prevent children from falling out, but what about bars that keep criminals out? Thank you

    • As a super I know that it is the law of the building to offer the bars on your windows no matter what floor your on but it’s up to you if you want them or not

  • I live in Queens. Our landlord said that they had to replace the 2004 smoke/Carbon Monoxide detectors in the apartment. He said that we would have to reimburse them $35 per device. I would like to know if this is true.

  • I have a 3-fam hs. and rented an apt. to a single mom w/child for whom I had to install window guards. Can I pass along the charge, not for install. but the window bars to tenant (I mean is there a limit you may charge or do you charge whatever you had to pay for them)?

    Also, I read that the maximum pass along charge for a combination carbon-monoxide smoke detector is $35.
    But when I went to purchase this (Home Depot) the cheapest price was $45 or $ 59? So, as a landlord I stand to lose difference of cost to me.

    I couldn’t find answers to the above two questions, really. But the law/regulations for 3-family dwellings are least strict than other multiple dwellings & law allows for landlord to determine such in advance, or as a prerogative.

    Can anyone clarify? Thanks.