When Housing Conditions Are Bad

What is a landlord’s responsibility?
In New York State there is an implied warranty of habitability once an apartment is rented. This means that the landlord promises to maintain the apartment in a condition that does not endanger you or your family’s life, health or safety.

What if there are problems with an apartment but I want to move in?
Inspect the apartment thoroughly with the landlord. Make a list of any existing damages or defects. Ask the landlord to make any necessary repairs. If the landlord wants you to sign a lease, try to include in the blank spaces of the lease any promises the landlord makes about repairs. In any event, keep a record of the condition of the apartment at the time you first rent, in the form of a list or photographs (preferably taken by a camera if possible as opposed to a cell phone.) This list may come in handy at the time you vacate the apartment should the landlord claim that you caused damage or the defect but in fact the damage or the defect existed at the time you first rented the apartment. In many places the landlord must obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) from the Housing Department of the city or municipality where the apartment is located each time he or she rents the apartment. A CO certifies that the apartment is free of vermin and substantial defects affecting liveability. Ask the landlord if there is a CO. If there is no CO check with the Legal Aid office to find out if the landlord is supposed to have one. If the Department of Social Services (DSS) is going to provide you with a security deposit for the apartment, DSS will require both the City inspector and their inspector to see the apartment before they will authorize the security deposit.

What if problems develop while I’m living there?
Contact the landlord first and report any problems to him or her. Any conditions affecting the health and/or safety of you and your family should be cured by the landlord immediately. If the landlord does not repair defects that substantially affect your health and safety (rats and roaches; problems with heat, electricity, water; broken doors, locks, windows; leaky roof, etc.), contact your local city Code Enforcement office and/or the County Health Department and report the problem. You should also send your landlord a written, dated, notice of these problems, (preferably by certified/return receipt mail) asking the landlord to address them immediately, and be sure to keep a copy of the letter and proof of mailing for your own records. Either office will send out an inspector who, after checking over the apartment, will give both you and your landlord a report of the conditions.

Can my landlord evict me if I report him to Code Enforcement?
It is illegal for the landlord to try to evict you for contacting Code Enforcement. Should the landlord try, call or come into your local Legal Aid office. What can I do if the landlord refuses to make repairs? You may withhold a portion of the rent for having to live in uninhabitable conditions. Try to speak with an attorney before you begin to withhold rent. If you decide to withhold a portion of the rent keep the money in a safe place, such as a bank account, in case the landlord sues you for non-payment of rent. DO NOT SPEND THE MONEY! If you are on public assistance you can ask your caseworker to withhold the rent portion of your grant until the landlord makes the repairs. In a situation where the landlord has not made the repairs or there is an emergency you may make the necessary repairs yourself and deduct the reasonable repair costs from the rent. It is advisable to do this only after sending the landlord written notice of the problems, indicating that you will address them yourself if the landlord does not, and will seek reimbursement in the form of a rent reduction if you have to pay for the repairs yourself. Be sure that the costs for the repairs are reasonable or you may not be able to convince a judge that you should be reimbursed for the entire amount. Keep the receipts to show the landlord. Also be aware that by withholding rent, you face the risk of the landlord commencing a non-payment eviction action against you in local court. Although you will be able to submit proof of the notices you’ve sent and receipts for the repairs at the scheduled court date, this is still an inconvenience to have to go to court to show there was a problem which the landlord was given notice of and did not address. If conditions are so bad that you cannot live there and the landlord refuses to correct the situation you may move out. This is called a constructive eviction and it cancels the lease. If you decide to move out, make sure you have the reports from Code Enforcement or the Health Department documenting the unlivable conditions of the apartment. Be sure you have notified your landlord in writing of the conditions. Take pictures if you can. These steps will help you prove that the apartment was unlivable should the landlord sue you for breaking the lease.

Am I ever responsible for apartment repairs?
The cost of repair for damage to the apartment by you, your family or your guests that is not caused by normal usage may be charged to you by the landlord. However, if the repairs are necessitated by events not under your control, (water leaking from the roof, broken lock, defective electrical wiring, etc.) the landlord should make the repairs with no charge to you.

When can the landlord keep my security deposit?
The landlord may use the security deposit as reimbursement for the cost of repair to the apartment beyond normal wear and tear. Cleaning and painting the apartment after you move out is usually due to normal wear and tear. Broken windows, burns on carpeting and holes punched in walls are examples of conditions that the landlord can use the security deposit to fix. The landlord should only keep the amount of the repairs and refund the remainder to you. The landlord has the right to hold on to the security deposit until after you vacate the residence and there is an opportunity to inspect the premises.

√ It is the landlord’s duty to keep the apartment in “good repair.”
√ Notify your landlord first about any necessary repairs.
√ If the landlord does not make the repairs contact Code Enforcement.