In an emergency when the landlord is unavailable, tenants can pay for the necessary repairs out of their own pocket and then deduct them from their rent, but if the landlord refuses to recognize the expense, they may find themselves in a situation difficult, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph, which represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
Part of the problem is that there is no law on the books in New York State protecting tenants who do this.
“Some states have laws that under certain circumstances, if the landlord doesn’t make necessary repairs, tenants can make them and deduct the cost from their rent payment,” Himmelstein says. “These laws are known as the ‘fix and deduct’ laws. New York does not have such a law, except in one specific case: if tenants receive notice that a utility such as electric, gas, or oil will be shut down because the landlord has not paid the bill, they can pool their resources. , pay the bill and deduct it from the rent.
Landlords say other types of repairs aren’t protected by law, and most leases prohibit tenants from making changes to their apartments without the landlord’s permission. Generally, a renter’s best bet is to contact their super or landlord about the needed repair.
But in an emergency, a tenant may have no choice but to take care of it themselves.
“I advise customers not to repair and deduct except in two situations: if it is an emergency, which means that an essential service or item needs to be repaired, and it is a week- end or a holiday, or your landlord is unreachable or can’t get it fixed,” Himmelstein says.
This could apply, for example, if you are locked out of your apartment or building through no fault of your own and have to pay a locksmith to change the lock, or if you only have one bathroom. bath and the toilet breaks.
For other non-emergency issues, such as a kitchen cabinet falling off the wall, if your landlord doesn’t respond to repeated repair requests, create a paper trail.
“Be sure to send a letter to the owner at least once requesting the repair,” Himmelstein says. “Then if they don’t respond, write again and state that unless the landlord fixes the problem, you will do so at your own expense and deduct it from the rent.”
In other words, if you do the groundwork, you’ll probably be fine, but there’s no guarantee. For market rate renters whose landlords refuse to acknowledge that they paid out of pocket for a repair and insist that they owe them rent, the question becomes whether it is worth renting. escalate the conflict.
“As a practical matter, would it be worth going to court over the expenses?” said Himmelstein. “If the landlord is asking you for rent, it might not make sense to hire a lawyer and go through the trouble of making multiple court appearances for a few hundred dollars.”
This is particularly the case for market rate tenants whose landlords could retaliate by refusing to renew their leases, which is illegal, but difficult to challenge. It’s also worth bearing in mind that going to Housing Court for any reason puts tenants on the tenant blacklist.
In other words, if sending a letter and receipt for the repair work is not enough, the path of least resistance may be to simply pay.
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes regarding evictions, rent increases, rent conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To request legal advice, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.