CTRC Fact Sheet Index

TenantNet note: These Fact Sheets were published by CTRC in the mid-1990's. Some information will be out-of-date. As far as we know, there have been no updates to these fact sheets. While much of the information may still be valid, the reader should exercise caution.

CTRC Fact Sheets -- reproduced with permission.
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The Community Training Resource Center (CTRC) is a city-wide not-
for-profit organization that champions the rights of modest and
low-income tenants and promotes the preservation, improvement,
and expansion of affordable housing. CTRC provides training and
technical assistance for neighborhood housing groups, community
based organizations, legislative staffs and social service
providers.

CTRC produces fact sheets on tenants' rights, develops and
publishes research reports, and provides a written guide to New
York City government processes. CTRC advocates on budget policies
that affect housing and related services in low-income
neighborhoods. CTRC has led the campaign for the improvement and
expansion of the city's Housing Maintenance Code inspection and
enforcement services.
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CTRC Fact Sheet #201

HEAT AND HOT WATER COMPLAINTS


                 October 1 through May 31

Heat is              when outside temp.     Inside Temp must
Required             is below:              be at least:

6:00 am - 10:00 pm         55                    68
10:00 pm - 6:00 am         40                    55

Hot Water is required 24 hours a day at a minimum remperature at the
tap of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.


In NewYork City, during the heating season from October 1 through
May 31, tenant complaints of lack of heat and hot water are
officially given top priority throughout the five boroughs by the
New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development's
(HPD) Division of Code Enforcement (DCE). A brutal winter may often
send the temperature plummeting to below freezing for days at a
time. Under such circumstances, any building without heat
constitutes a life threatening, emergency situation for tenants,
especially senior citizens, invalids and infants or young children.

It is not difficult to find reasons for the fact that heat and hot
water problems are so commonplace. The cost of supplying fuel for
heat and hot water service in a multiple dwelling is generally,
after real estate taxes, the largest single expense incurred by its
owner (luxury buildings may have employee payrolls that are larger).
At current prices, the fuel bill (using #6 oil), in a year with
average winter temperatures, for a typical one hundred unit
apartment building would approximate $60,000. Landlords are too
often tempted to look at this building expense as "controllable" and
initiate a systematic cut-back in service calculated to produce
substantial savings.

A large part of the NYC housing stock is old and in poor condition.
Approximately 40 percent of existing buildings are pre-1929 "old
law" or "new law" walk-up tenements.The heating systems in these
buildings are generally inefficient, having outlived their useful
life, and break down frequently. Although these systems could be
replaced with the costs passed on to the tenants, many of these
landlords are short of the necessary cash and operate their
buildings on a shoestring. The buildings, usually in low-income
neighborhoods, are not considered good risks for loans by banks and
other lending institutions. Additionally, affected tenants,
generally living at or below the poverty level, pay rents that
consume 60 to 70 percent of their gross household income and could
not possibly absorb any further increases.

Finally, most landlords, managing agents or superintendents have not
had any technical training in how to efficiently operate building
heating systems. A commonplace mid-winter scene in New York City is
an overheated apartment with windows wide open pouring heat-energy
dollars into the street. At the other extreme is the scene of a
family with children huddling around a kitchen stove,, the only
source of heat in an otherwise freezing apartment.

Landlords or employees responsible for maintaining residential
building services should be required to take courses that teach the
necessary skills to run those buildings. Low cost classes that
provide this training are currentlvy offered by, among others, the
Apartment House Institute (affiliated with the New York Technical
College) and the Cornell University (New York) County Extension
Service. This training invariably results in significant fuel
savings for the owner and improved living conditions for the
tenants.

Complaints to the Landlord

Tenants suffering from a chronic lack of heat and hot water are
advised to send a letter of complaint to their landlord by certified
mail. The letter should document the history and extent of the
problem, listing specific dates and details. Ideally, it should
include a daily heat chart, listing days of inside and outside
temperatures when heating violations occurred. The letter should
also call attention to any previous tenant complaints regarding heat
related problems and what, if anything, was done to correct them.
Finally, tenants should request a response within a specific time,
and indicate that they will take whatever administrative and legal
actions are necessary if there is none.

Central Complaints and Emergency Repairs

HPD, Division of Code Enforcement, has a twenty four hour heat
complaint telephone number (212) 824-4328 that tenants may call
during the heating season.The rest of the year, June 1st to
September 30, the hours of service are cut back and the number is
only accessible Monday through Friday, from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Tenants should provide, if possible, the name, address and phone
number of the landlord or managing agent. If the problem is building
wide, tenants should organize and take turns making daily, multiple
calls until an inspector visits the building.

The central complaints operator's job is to determine the nature and
extent of the emergency condition reported and prioritize an
inspection response which should take place within twenty-four to
seventy-two hours. During the heating season, only heat and hot
water complaints are inspected. Inspections are not provided for non-
heat related hazardous conditions until the heating season is over,
often months after the hazardous condition was first reported; and
inspection, even then, is doubtful.

HPD depends on "owner compliance" as the preferred system for
getting repairs made. Upon an inspector's report of emergency
conditions, the Emergency Service Bureau attempts to reach the owner
or the building agent to tell them to make the necessary repairs
within a specified time. The agency claims that ninety percent of
owners are reached and that seventy five percent live up to their
agreement with HPD. However, there is no documented record of
landlord compliance because reinspections are not routinely made.
Confirmation that the work has been done is usually determined by
oral or written responses that the bureau requests from tenants.
This is a "hit or miss" system, at best. If the tenant does not
write to indicate that repairs were not made, HPD deems the
violation(s) corrected.

Where owners cannot be reached or have refused to take action to
cure the emergency, HPD may send in its own in-house staff (Division
of Maintenance) to do the work. If special skills are required, the
bureau will engage an outside contractor (e.g., licensed plumber or
licensed electrician). Uncooperative landlords who do not wish to be
billed for emergency repairs by HPD, may deny access to the building
or repair site to HPD workers or the hired contractor. After two
unsuccessful attempts to gain entry, the emergency bureau may ask
HPD's Housing Litigation Bureau (HLB) for assistance.The litigation
bureau attorneys will bring pressure on the owner to grant access,
and failing that, after a "declaration of emergency," seek an access
warrant in Court. Records indicate that very few access warrants are
requested or issued. In heat and hot water emergencies, where the
outside temperature is below freezing, HPD staff or contractors are
authorized to "break and enter" if necessary.

HPD may legally bill the owner for emergency repairs and, if payment
is not forthcoming, place a lien on the building.

Tenants are also reminded that the Multiple Dwelling Law Section 302
allows tenants, whose landlord is responsible for heating but has
failed to purchase fuel oil, to contract and pay for fuel delivery
and deduct such payment from their rent. The tenants must make
reasonable efforts to contact the landlord about the lack of fuel
oil and then order from the usual supplier or another established
supplier. In a building using natural gas heating, pursuant to
Public Services Law Section 116, tenants may use the landlords
account or establish a new one with the public utility company and
pay the heating bill. Such payments are deductible from future
rents.

Court Actions

Tenants may withhold rent if they are denied heat and hot water and
expect to be sued by their landlord for non-payment in Housing
Court. In answering, tenants should claim landlord's breach of the
"Warranty of Habitibility" and cite the specific denial of services
as a defense. A court ordered inspection to confirm tenants defense
should be requested, if an inspection is still appropriate. Tenants
should also enter a counterclaim for rent abatements based on
reduced services. As mentioned above, documentation of times, dates,
and relevant temperatures on those dates will play a critical role
as evidence to substantiate tenant claims.

Tenants could also sue the landlord for the necessary repairs or
restoration of services by filing an Housing Part Action (HP) in
Housing Court. Favorable results of such an action might include
court ordered repairs, rent abatements, and if there is further
landlord non-compliance, fines, contempt proceedings and
occasionally, jail sentences.The HP Action is often the fastest and
most effective procedure that tenants may employ for getting
landlords to comply with the housing codes and is highly
recommended. For greater detail please refer to the CTRC fact sheet,
Housing Court Actions

Complaints to the DHCR

Rent stabilized or rent controlled tenants in addition to the
actions taken above should, at the same time, file either form HHW-1
(individual tenants) or form RA-84 (building wide) with the New York
State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). The DHCR is
required to order an inspection of the subject building and upon
confirmation of the tenant complaint may reduce the existing rent
and freeze any further increases. Rents remain frozen until services
are restored. The landlord must make a written request for
reinstatement of rents. Tenants can challenge the request if, in
fact, the landlords claim of restoration of services is not
accurate. For a more thorough discussion, refer to CTRC fact sheet,
Rent Reduction for Lack of Services.

Tenant Organizing

Because heat-related problems can become immediately hazardous to
health and safety, the value of an organized tenancy cannot be
overemphasized. The process of getting services restored may involve
complex and extended legal negotiations with the landlord, city
agencies and/or the courts. Such efforts are best carried out by a
well organized tenant group. Tenants not able or not prepared to
develop a self-organized group should seek the help and advice of a
legal services provider, community housing organization, or a
competent tenant attorney.

                               ###

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These article are Copyright 1995 and 1996 by Community Training
Resource Center (CTRC) and reproduced by TenantNet. They may be
freely redistributed in their entirety provided they are reproduced
exactly as in the originals, including this copyright notice, the
opening and closing informational banners and any references to
either CTRC or TenantNet must be included.

These article are provided as is without any express or implied
warranty. While any information in these article is believed to be
correct at the time of writing, these articles are for educational
purposes only and do not purport to provide legal advice. If you
require legal advice, you should consult with a legal practitioner
licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Community Training Resource Center                (212)964-7200
47 Ann Street
New York, NY 10038

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