What to do if your landlord turns off your heat

Knowing your rights and retaining heat are directly related
Knowing your rights and retaining heat are directly related.

This winter hasn’t been the coldest on record, but if you don’t have heat in your apartment, you’ll be feeling it. Or not feeling it on account of how numb you’ll be. If you’re trapped without heat or hot water, and you find yourself thinking about opening the fridge to let a little warmer air into the apartment, you may need to do something about it – but what?

Heat is a right, not a privilege. Don’t let your landlord freeze you out – fight back by knowing your rights and raising hell, the legal way! Read on for how to take action and transform your frozen wasteland into a toasty, rattling-radiator heaven.

Know your rights!

Every tenant has the right to heat and hot water during the winter months (Oct. 1 – May 31). How much heat? It depends on the time of day:

  • Between the hours of 6am and 10pm, if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature must be at least 68 degrees.
  • Between the hours of 10pm and 6am, if the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees, the inside temperature must be at least 55 degrees.
    (Source: NYC311)

But, your landlord MUST make hot water available year round, at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Does this mean you could take a 365-day long shower? Technically, yes, but for the sake of your housemates we don’t recommend it, pruney.

Make a complaint

So your temperature has dropped below 68 degrees, or the heat has been turned off altogether – don’t just sit on your frozen buns hoping it will come back like the character of your neighbourhood! Make like a suburban mom and ask to speak to the manager.

  1. Step one is to tell your landlord, and do it in writing! In most cases, this will be a flashy “real estate boutique management firm” or the like. Talk to your neighbours to see if they are affected, and if they are – encourage them to contact your landlord too. A flood of complaints is harder to ignore.
  2. If you don’t get a fix from your landlord quickly, call 311. The city has a surprisingly helpful website where you can file a complaint online. Alternatively, they also have an app. You can also find out if other people have made similar complaints. This will normally light a fire under your landlord.
  3. Contact your tenants’ union (if you have one)! Tenants unions cover specific areas, like the Crown Heights Tenants Union or the whole city, like the Metropolitan Council on Housing. The Met Council on Housing has a tenants’ rights hotline, and in-person clinics every Tuesday night. Getting in touch with your tenants union is important for two reasons – they have invaluable experience dealing with problems like heat, and you’ll be giving them important information that helps them build a picture of problematic landlords.

Make records of everything

Get a thermometer, record temperatures in your apartment at the relevant times of day. Keep copies of emails, take notes of phone conversations, and make copies of correspondence. Put it in a file – be organized and you’ll thank yourself later.

What if it keeps happening?

If you can’t get the problem fixed, or you do but then it happens again, and again, you may need to take your case to housing court. Tenants unions can assist with this, but another option is to contact the Tenants Protection Unit of the DHCR. This is only available if you’re living in a rent regulated apartment – but if you are, DHCR can help stop patterns of landlord fraud and harassment.

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