Habitability and Repairs.

HABITABILITY AND REPAIRS

WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY

Under the warranty of habitability, tenants have the right to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. This is a right that is implied in every written or oral residential lease. Any lease provision that waives this right is contrary to public policy and is therefore void. Examples of a breach of this warranty include the failure to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or the failure to rid an apartment of an insect infestation. Public areas of the building are also covered by the warranty of habitability. The warranty of habitability also applies to cooperative apartments, but not to condominiums. Any uninhabitable condition caused by the tenant or persons under the tenant’s direction or control does not constitute a breach of the warranty of habitability. In such a case, it is the responsibility of the tenant to remedy the condition. Real Property Law §235-b.

If a landlord breaches the warranty of habitability, the tenant may sue for a rent reduction. Alternatively, rent regulated tenants can also file a rent reduction complaint with DHCR. The tenant may also withhold rent, but in response, the landlord may sue the tenant for non-payment of rent. In such case, the tenant may counter-sue for breach of the warranty.

The court or DHCR may grant a rent reduction if it finds that the landlord violated the warranty of habitability. The reduction is computed by subtracting from the actual rent the estimated value of the apartment without the essential services. For a tenant to receive a reduction, the landlord must have actual or constructive notice of the existence of the defective condition.

A landlord’s liability for damages is limited when the failure to provide services is the result of a union-wide building workers’ strike. However, a court may award damages to a tenant equal to a share of the landlord’s net savings because of the strike. Landlords will be liable for lack of services caused by a strike when they have not made a good faith attempt, where practicable, to provide services.

In extenuating circumstances, tenants may make necessary repairs and deduct reasonable repair costs from the rent. For example, when a landlord has been notified that a door lock is broken and willfully neglects to repair it, the tenant may hire a locksmith and deduct the cost from the rent. Tenants should keep receipts for such repairs.

If an apartment is so severely damaged by fire or other circumstances not caused by the tenant that the apartment becomes uninhabitable, and the lease does not expressly provide otherwise, the tenant may vacate the apartment and cancel the lease on three days’ notice to the landlord. The tenant will be released from liability for subsequent rental payments. Real Property Law § 227.

If only a portion of the apartment is damaged, the rent may be reduced pursuant to a court order or by DHCR in proportion to the part of the apartment that is damaged. The landlord must then repair those portions of the apartment and return them to livable condition.

LANDLORDS' DUTY OF REPAIR

Landlords of multiple dwellings must keep the apartments and the building’s public areas in “good repair” and clean and free of vermin, garbage or other offensive material. Landlords are required to maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating and ventilating systems and appliances landlords install, such as refrigerators and stoves, in good and safe working order. Tenants should bring complaints to the attention of their local housing officials. Multiple Dwelling Law §78 and §80; Multiple Residence Law §174. The Multiple Dwelling Law applies to cities with a population of 325,000 or more and the Multiple Residence Law applies to cities with less than 325,000 and to all towns and villages.

In New York City, the landlord is required to maintain the public areas in a clean and sanitary condition. NYC Admin. Code § 27-2011.

LEAD PAINT

Landlords must protect against the possibility that children will be poisoned by peeling of dangerous lead-based paint. Federal and local laws require that landlords of multiple dwellings built before 1960 (or between 1960 and 1978 where the landlord knows there is lead paint) must ascertain if a child under seven years old lives in an apartment, and inspect that apartment for lead paint hazards.

In performing any work that disturbs lead paint in applicable apartments and common areas, a landlord must hire workers who have completed a training course in lead-safe work practices. Landlords must remove or permanently cover apartment walls and other areas where lead based paint is peeling.

The landlord must keep records of all notices, inspections and repair of lead paint hazards, and other matters related to lead paint law. Landlords of such dwellings in New York City must also provide their tenants with a pamphlet prepared by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). 42 U.S.C.A § 4851; NYC Admin. Code § 27-2056.


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