The Basics of Getting Repairs
The laws and regulations of New York require that your landlord maintain essential services in your building or apartment and that he/she make prompt repairs. However, to enforce these laws you must take action – no one will do it for you.
If you have notified your landlord, managing agent, or building superintendent, and they have not resolved the problem, you must take additional steps, which are outlined on this page.
Note: If you have problems getting repairs or services, chances are that your neighbors have these problems, too. Working with your neighbors on common problems is almost always more effective than fighting the battle alone. You may want to join your building’s tenant association, or if your building doesn’t have one, to start one. (Read more about Forming a Tenants’ Association.)
Step 1: Send a letter to your landlord
It’s important to put your request for repairs or services in writing, even if you have already spoken to your landlord, managing agent, or building superintendent. In general, when fighting with your landlord over repairs and services, keeping good records is key.
Your letter should list all the problems in your apartment and in the common areas of the building, and include the history of all your previous attempts to get the problems solved – who you spoke to, what promises they made, and what was not done. If your apartment or building needs many repairs, and because it’s important to include everything that needs to be addressed in your first written communication, you may want to download and print our Tenants’ Inspection Checklist/Lista de verificación de la inspección de los inquilinos (公寓居住條件調查問卷) and use it as a guide so that you don’t leave anything out. Photocopy the checklist, keep a copy for your records, and send the checklist along with your letter to the landlord.
Particularly if you are in a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment and plan to file a reduction in services complaint with NYS Homes & Community Renewal to get a rent freeze, you must be able to prove that you first wrote to your landlord notifying him/her of the problem. You must send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy of the letter, along with proof of mailing and the receipt, when it arrives, with your copy of the letter (along with the Tenants’ Inspection Checklist, if applicable) to show the HCR or a Housing Court judge, if you wind up going to court.
Here is a sample letter:
July 1, 2017
Enclosed is my rent for July. As I have told the super several times, I need repairs in my apartment and in the public areas of the building. He keeps saying he will do them, but he never has. These repairs are:
1. Hot-water faucet in tub leaks
2. Floor tiles broken
3. Holes in the floor by the radiator
4. Entrance door lock defective
If these repairs are not made by July 15, 2017, I will have no choice but to use my legal remedies to get the repairs done. Please contact me as soon as possible to arrange a time to have these repairs made.
Jane Doe (Apt. 4A)
daytime phone: 123-456-7891
A sample letter from the tenants’ association
July 1, 2018
We write to you as members of the XYZ Tenants’ Association in order to get repairs to the public areas and our individual apartments. Previous attempts by individual tenants to get repairs made have failed. We intend to act as a tenants’ association from here on, and take whatever follow‐up steps are necessary to get these repairs.
We have attached to this letter a list of repairs needed in various apartments. In the public areas, the following needs to be repaired:
- The entryway door lock is defective: outsiders can easily gain entrance to the building by pushing hard on the door.
- The elevator does not stop level with the floors.
- The hallways are in need of cleaning and mopping.
If these repairs are not made by July 15, we will exercise our legal rights to get them done. Please contact us as soon as possible to set up a schedule for making repairs.
Jane Doe (Apt. 4A), Robert Smith (Apt 5B)
Co‐Presidents, XYZ Tenants’ Association
Be prepared to follow up with a complaint to the city or state housing agencies, and/or a court action. If your landlord does not respond to your letter, or responds but does not do the work (or doesn’t complete the job) you should think about the next steps.
Step Two: File A Complaint With Government Agencies
You can file a complaint with the city by calling 311 from any phone in New York City (from outside NYC, call 212‐639‐9675). Through 311, you can reach city departments responsible for enforcing the housing, building, and health codes, and ask for an inspection.
- The Dept. of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) enforces laws relating to housing maintenance (heat, hot water, lead paint, leaky ceilings, other apartment deficiencies).
- The Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOH) deals with lead poisoning prevention (together with HPD), child window guard requirements, rodent and pest infestations, and some mold and asbestos conditions.
- The Dept. of Buildings (DOB) issues permits for new construction and for alterations or renovation to existing buildings, inspects elevators, plumbing, and electrical systems, and responds to complaints about unsafe structures.
- The Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) handles complaints about noise and odors (produced by businesses such as restaurants and clubs).
- Note: Always call 911 for emergencies (a cascading flood, a gas leak, carbon monoxide alarms sounding, etc).
If you are in a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment, you can file a complaint (either building‐wide or for your individual apartment) with the state housing agency, Homes & Community Renewal.
Individual tenants should use HCR’s form RA-81 “Application For A Rent Reduction Based Upon Decreased Service(s) – Individual Apartment” and tenant groups should use form RA-84 “Application For A Rent Reduction Based Upon Decreased Building-Wide Service(s)”. HCR can be reached by calling 718‐739‐6400 or go online to download any of HCR’s forms for tenants.
HCR has the power to order a rent reduction and rent freeze for rent-regulated apartments until the landlord fixes the problem. If the problem is no heat or hot water, you can file once you have a copy of a violation report from a city agency. For all other issues, you must first write a letter to your landlord complaining about the problem and send it by certified mail, return receipt requested. You can file with HCR once 10 days – but no more than 60 days – have passed since sending the letter to your landlord. In the letter and on the forms, be specific in identifying the problem. For more on the process of applying for a rent reduction, read HCR’s Fact Sheet #14: Rent Reductions for Decreased Services.
Be advised that while HCR rent reductions and rent freezes may be an incentive for your landlord to make repairs, HCR cannot force such repairs to me made, and the agency typically acts slowly. It’s generally advisable to file a rent reduction and also take other steps (such as suing your landlord in court in an HP Action for repairs and services). Requesting a rent reduction from HCR does not prevent you from also pursuing other remedies.
What happens after I file a complaint with a city agency? Does the violation get corrected?
In theory, when tenants file complaints with city agencies, the agency will send an inspector and levy fines against landlords for violations that are not fixed. However, in many cases tenants must be persistent to get an inspection and must take additional steps to force their landlords to make the repairs, including taking the landlord to court.
You can check violations on HPD’s section of the city’s website: nyc.gov/hpd
Always ask for and get the complaint number. Call a local elected official to help with follow-up (Use these links to look up your New York City Council member, New York State Assemblymember, New York State Senator, Borough President, or Public Advocate.) When calling 311 about a building‐wide condition, get all the tenants in the building to call every day until the problem is fixed.
Once a violation is issued, your landlord will be given a time frame to correct the violation, based on the severity of the condition. However, the city often does not do adequate follow-up, and some landlords simply ignore violations. If that happens, you can sue your landlord for repairs & services in Housing Court, in a case called an HP Action.
Step Three: Sue your landlord in Housing Court (HP Action for repairs and services)
Tenants may start a lawsuit against their landlords, either individually or as a group of tenants from the same building, based on their landlord’s failure to make repairs or to provide essential services. The procedure is fairly simple and has a good chance of success.
Go to the Housing Court in your borough and ask for paperwork to start a Housing Part (HP) Action. You can get help in filling out the forms at the clerks’ windows, the Court Help Center, or Housing Court Answers, a nonprofit organization that staffs information tables in the Housing Courts.
There is a fee for starting a case, but if you have a low income, you can ask for the fee to be waived. Once you file the forms with the clerk, you will be given a court date and an inspection date. You will have to serve your landlord and the city with a copy of the papers. The clerk will instruct you on how to serve the papers. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully. Also, be sure that you are at home on the date of the inspection and that you return to court on the date and at the time specified, or your case will not be successful.
Prepare for your court date. Print out the list of violations for your building and apartment from HPD’s website: nyc.gov/hpd. Take new pictures of any violations that can be seen. On the date of your hearing, take to court all the evidence you have to prove your case: letters, proof of mailings, photos, heat logs, notices from your landlord, and witnesses, if necessary.
Most HP Actions end with the landlord signing an order to correct violations that are listed on the inspection report, and an arrangement for access dates. If your landlord does not show up on the access dates or does not complete the repairs, you can return to court and file an Order to Show Cause to ask for a new court date in the case. In extreme cases when a landlord repeatedly ignores court orders, tenants can ask the judge to order HPD to do the repairs and bill the landlord.
Can I make the repairs or hire someone to do it and deduct the cost from my rent?
New York City does not have an automatic repair and deduct procedure. This means that if you pay for a repair and deduct the cost from the rent, you risk being sued by your landlord in Housing Court in an eviction case for nonpayment of rent. You also risk being sued for money and/or eviction if the work causes damages to property or if your landlord claims that such work was unauthorized and in violation of your lease.
You must first make a reasonable effort to get your landlord to make the repair. If you decide to repair and deduct, protect yourself by keeping proof of the condition needing repair (such as photos) and of your efforts to get your landlord to comply (such as letters to your landlord with proof of mailing from the post office, or violation reports from city agencies). Add any compelling details to a letter to your landlord explaining your decision, such as health concerns for household members. If your landlord takes you to court, you will need to show that you acted reasonably.
Can I withhold rent because I’m not getting repairs or services?
You have a right by law to withhold rent, and you may be entitled to a reduction in the amount of rent owed (called a rent abatement) if you can document that you did not get repairs or essential services for a period of time. (Proof is essential!) However, withholding rent has serious consequences: it could lead to eviction, and your name will show up on tenant screening reports, among other things. Always set aside rent money that you withhold – do not spend it – and always get expert advice before withholding rent. (Go here for help in Finding a Lawyer)
Can I my landlord evict me for asking for repairs if I am not rent regulated?
If you ask for a repair from your landlord or a government agency and your landlord either refuses to renew your lease or gives you a significant rent increase within a year, this could be considered retaliation and the courts can give you a new lease for a year.
Document the repairs you need with JustFix.nyc – use Advocate Code: metcouncil
The information contained on this web page does not constitute legal advice and must not be used as a substitute for the advice of a lawyer qualified to give advice on legal issues pertaining to housing. For more, visit our page on Finding a lawyer.
This information pertains only to tenants living in New York City.
Many of your rights depend on the type of housing you live in or your type of tenancy. You may be subject to different laws and have different sets of rights than even neighbors in your own building. Learn which rights and responsibilities apply to you.