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Public hallway flood question

NYC Rent Regulation: Rent Control/Rent Stabilized, DHCR Practice/Procedures

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Public hallway flood question

Postby regina11 » Mon Mar 22, 2021 3:24 pm

There has been a leak in the hallway for a while. HPd wrote LLs up, the leak stopped.

Now it's been leaking again for weeks, and there is 1/2" standing water in the hallway.

If I put heavy flow leak complaint into HPD system, does that prompt them to send someone fast?

AG's office had put out guidance https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/2020/at ... oronavirus to call
311 and request an emergency inspection I called 311 and they said they have NO notes on 'emergency inspection." no one answers the phone at HPD. I called AG's office to ask what their press release meant and they didn't seem to care at all that thier own instructions to call 311 and request emergency inspection don't work. They suggested I called DHCR. I've been on hold for hours and no one has answered the phone there.

I am afraid if I call DOB we all will get kicked out, with nowhere to go.

What should I do? I may call fire dept to turn off water, but then I wonder if hpd will come while water is off and they won't see the leaking, then the ll would turn water back on and we will have leak again.

Any advice? Two different unit' tenants on my floor have moved out in the span of one month because it's gotten bad. I don't want the LL to win.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby TenantNet » Mon Mar 22, 2021 6:06 pm

Do you know the source of the leak? I would first start there.

HPD has this program: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/services- ... m-ll6.page

I remember a few years ago they passed legislation on this, so I think this is the result. Normally I don't give HPD a lot of credence, but I would at least consider filing with them.

I would also strongly suggest you file an "HP Action" in NYC Housing Court. Given the pandemic and Housing Court backlogs, I don't know how HP Actions are getting filed and heard (it might be by teleconference), but dig around. Start here: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/ny ... g/hp.shtml

If you qualify you can file a HP Action as a "poor person" meaning you don't have to pay any filing fees.

With an HP Action, in effect you sue both the LL and HPD, requiring HPD to inspect and place violations when warranted. If considered "immediately hazardous," the LL might have just a few days to do the repairs ... and not a patch job, but the underlying problem.

It does not matter if the LL has to bring in an off-hours plumber at 3 AM, and pay double. What you describe is a real emergency.

Yes, you could just call 311 and put in a complaint, and maybe HPD will get around to it, but you can't wait. If it was me, I would do the HP Action. Whenever I've done it, I get action pretty quick.

Also withholding rent can get the LL's attention.

You might also bring in DOB if it involves broken pipes. Why would they kick you out? Do you have an illegal apartment situation? Is the building ready to collapse? Use your judgment.

DHCR won't do anything. You could try the AG's office via twitter. Surprisingly, few years back I got hold of the now A.G. on twitter. But only do that if you are also doing other things.

Of course, take many photos, record phone calls, get other tenants involved. I would check this forum for HP Actions (and the reference section), then the website as a whole, then of course, Google.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby regina11 » Mon Mar 22, 2021 9:12 pm

Thanks so much I will contact that program you shared the link to!

I looked up my building's Certificate of Occupancy and see a few units on my floor are supposed to be medical offices, not residences. But I don't know which units. There are no medical offices on my floor or building. So I don't know if my apartment is legal, because I don't know which ones are supposed to be residences or medical offices :/ Hence the fear of being kicked out and nowhere to go.

I am already withholding rent and the landlord has not taken me to court (i am doing it all in a separate bank account, I sent a certified letter and another certified letter months later when he still hadnt fixed anything.) I have been withholding rent for a while and the landlord hasn't done anything, which is making me wonder if my apartment is legal or not.

An HP action may be in order, although as you say there may be a big backlog but I could try. I just didn' want my name to be on record (I know the blacklist is technically outlawed but prospective landlords can still look you up and see if you've gone to court, right?)

Anyway thanks for the help, I'll contact that program you told me about and maybe HP action too :/ The AG is another option. A load of tenants filed complaints with the AG's office 2 years ago and so far nothing has changed.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby TenantNet » Mon Mar 22, 2021 10:18 pm

You imply you are on the first floor. If DOB puts on a violation for improper Cert of Occupancy (COO), in out view they would order the LL to legalize the units in noncompliance. That can mean make them medical offices, or change the COO to allow residential living. Of course that would all depend on the zoning for the building. I don't think they would force you to vacate absent some immediate emergency situation. However, if all that comes to be, I would check with a tenant attorney who also knows zoning and DOB (many tenant lawyers do not know zoning issues).

I can appreciate your concerns on this, so maybe it's better to stick with HPD and a HP Action.

With withheld rent, keep it separate and don't spend the money. It might be the COVID backlog. We hear different things every day as to how courts are operating, so we can't give you step-by-step. I do think that HP Actions are being processed separately from non-payments.

The blacklist situation is unsettled, and yes, there are still concerns. I know one tenant attorney who - when a LL sues a tenant - to jump the gun and have the tenant start a case in Supreme Court and often is able to have the tenant listed as John/Jane Doe to avoid blacklist issues.

I know that DHCR will likely not do anything, even if they are able. The A.G. is another matter, but I don't have a lot of faith in them. FYI, I have filed two HP Actions over the last 5-6 years and generally have had good results. HPD inspects and the LL signs a stip to make corrections, and they usually do. If they don't then I have them over a barrel when they file a non-pay or holdover. Of course, make sure you have witnesses there on the date/time set in the stip to make sure they can't claim you refused access. And, in my case, I didn't have an inch of water in the hall, and it wasn't COVID time, so your mileage may vary.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby regina11 » Tue Mar 23, 2021 2:03 pm

It's actually a cellar level! Years after I moved in I heard cellar apartments are not legal, but the COO does say I think 2 residential units on the floor are allowed. So I don't know what to believe. The floor plan definitely calls this level "cellar." I have met with tenant attorneys and you are right, the ones i met with don't know about zoning issues! I didn't think to ask before reading what you wrote, thank you. I will be sure to ask next time i look for a lawyer. So yes the DOB *could* kick us all out on the floor, I am afraid to risk it.

HP action sounds like it may be the way to go!

"I know one tenant attorney who - when a LL sues a tenant - to jump the gun and have the tenant start a case in Supreme Court and often is able to have the tenant listed as John/Jane Doe to avoid blacklist issues." This is brilliant!!!

DHCR is useless, once we had no fire escape, no one on our floor did save for one unit, and HPD let me know that they could sue the LL for falsifying documents saying I had one. But they never did. DHCR gave us like $15 a month off rent until it was fixed. Sure, we could have died in a fire, apparently no big deal to them. Ag's office - they haven't prosesucted the top 100 worst landlords AFAIK, except for Croman. So to me they are also somewhat useless. Hoping a LL will be "shamed" rather than prosecuting them shows it is all a total farce.

I'm assuming stip means stipulation?

This is all very helpful info you're giving me, clearly coming from a place of knowledge, experience and helpfulness. I can't believe how helpful you all are. Thank you so much!!
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby TenantNet » Tue Mar 23, 2021 2:28 pm

You live in the cellar? I thought you said first floor.

In NYC basements and cellars are two different things. See https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/services- ... ellar.page

Which do you live in?

A rent reduction is all DHCR has the legal authority to do (with some exceptions).
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby TenantNet » Tue Mar 23, 2021 2:48 pm

You mentioned Croman - are you a Croman tenant? (I have a reason for asking).

The attorney who goes to Supreme with John/Jane Doe - that's Jamie Fishman, one of our advertisers. If you consult with him, please tell him where you got his name.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby regina11 » Tue Mar 23, 2021 4:23 pm

Hi, no I dont think I said i lived on the first floor - tenantnet had written "You imply you are on the first floor" (not sure where that implication came from, maybe because of the medical office thing?) but I don't think I said it. We are cellar level but unlike some units on our floor we have a big window etc. and could climb through it and get a fair amount of light. But I had read somewhere that windows have to be at most 3' off the ground, ours are higher than that but definitely accessible. I've learned never to move into a cellar again because street level dust etc undoubtedly comes in.

Croman - no I am not a tenant of his but I know of him, for sure. My LL's team employs someone who worked for Croman though. The city definitely knows about him, that's all I want to say on a public forum so as not to doxx myself :-)

I was going to ask you for the name of the attorney! Thanks for his name. If i contact him I will definitely say I got his name from you, thank you! I can tell you I put in the heavy flow complaint yesterday with HPD, hoping that a potential class C violation would spur HPD to send an inspector asap and lo and behold, an inspector came today and seemed appropriately dismayed. If the LL fixes it right away now that she's going to issue them a violation, I can not worry but you've definitely implanted the idea of an HP action in my brain, and thanks for the lawyer recommendation!

YOu know so much and whoever you are, or if there are a team of people answering this - I'm just very grateful to you for being there and for sharing such great advice.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby TenantNet » Tue Mar 23, 2021 4:54 pm

If you file a HP Action ASAP, the violation placed today might substitute for a new one that would normally be inspected as part of the HP Action (just guessing it might). HP Actions might take 7-10 days to the first appearance as the LL must be served. Again, I don't know how the HP court is handling things while in COVID. They might have in-person appearances, and they might do it by teleconference. You'll have to dig up all of that, and of course it could vary by borough.

What matters in Basement v. Cellar is how much is above and how much is below grade. In general, if a cellar, it will be illegal. The city had a pilot program in BK to legalize cellars, but conforming to egress and ventilation law can be expensive for LLs. They would also need to amend the COO; that can take months.

And if in a cellar, aside from any illegality, make sure you are covered with CO2 monitors. Basements and cellars can fill up with the gas.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby regina11 » Tue Mar 23, 2021 5:22 pm

"If you file a HP Action ASAP, the violation placed today might substitute for a new one that would normally be inspected as part of the HP Action (just guessing it might)" That's really cool. Ok I will dig more.

Yes, i think we are just very sightly more than half below ground, and i bet our apartment doesn't meet all the proper requirements for ventilation etc. but I don't know for sure. Maybe I should hire an engineer to ask them? Someone who knows all the city's requirements?

Thankfully the inspector just tested our Co2 monitor and it works! Thanks for the warning. The backyard floods onto our floor and I think the foundation is going. I have heard recently what you said, that all cellars generally are illegal (I most definitely did not know that when I moved in!) that's why the COO saying two units on our floor can be residences confounds me. Maybe the units have different heights etc, I am not sure. I know the window heights are different from some units.

"conforming to egress and ventilation law can be expensive for LLs"-I wonder how much money are we talking here. I wonder why they never bothered to convert - I guess they have had good luck with tenants moving in and out on our floor so they were trying to save money, but two of the units regularly get so bad the tenants move out and the units remain vacant for months. Those two at least are very likely illegal, I am coming to realize, because their windows were small and hard to get to - in the event of a fire, tenants in those units would have a hard time getting out.

So if it turns out the LL takes me to court for nonpayment (even though I have everything in a separate bank account and a treasure trove of documentation), and if my apartment is one of the ones that's supposed to be a medical office but not a residence - and I am not sure if this is the case - would the landlord not be able to collect withheld rent?
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby TenantNet » Tue Mar 23, 2021 5:58 pm

I don't think window height factors into determining if it's a cellar or basement. Sure, you can hire an architect, but all that costs money. Even so, if you think the foundation is not stable, I would get an engineer or architect over there AWAP (the LL will cut off access for inspection once you raise those issues). Look for cracks or movement in the foundation - depends on the age of the building, the nature of construction and the surrounding land.

As you get deeper into this, understand that safety is more important than anything. You can always sue the LL later, but not if you're under rubble.

Your description is still confusing. Are you in a townhouse (and not a tenement)? That might explain things. The parlor floor is the second floor. The garden floor is slightly below grade and is likely a basement, not a cellar (and thereby habitable). See https://www.brownstoner.com/real-estate ... al-living/

On the non-pay, make sure you file the COVID hardship declaration.

https://www1.nyc.gov/content/tenantreso ... e-closures

https://www.nycourts.gov/Courts/nyc/SSI ... ration.pdf

https://www.evictionfreeny.org/en/

Also remember, that even if the water source is repaired (not a band-aid), you can still claim warranty of habitability as a defense or counterclaim in a non-pay.
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Re: Public hallway flood question

Postby regina11 » Tue Mar 23, 2021 7:19 pm

Yep, I've read the brownstoner article a few months ago, "The cellar is legally defined as “a level of a building that has at least one-half of its floor-to-ceiling height below curb level or the base plane,” says NYC Planning. It is not included in floor area calculations." - pretty sure that's me.

Not a townhouse, a few story high brick apartment building, about....7 steps? down to my floor and then a few more steps down once you get inside. but then some of us have a few stairs going up at the entrance of our units. But fairly recently I had measured and it was hard to do with our measurer but it seemed as though we 'e slightly more than 50% below ground. but the window is so tall it is hard to believe.

Also the floor plan and the COO for this building call this level the CELLAR not the basement.

The window 3' thing I got was actually about basement apartments: "Every sleeping room in a basement apartment must have an egress window or door opening to the outside. The window sill can’t be more than three feet above the floor and the window should be at least 30 inches tall by 24 inches wide,” says Leitch. " https://www.brickunderground.com/rent/h ... t-is-legal

--so I'm not sure if it applies to cellar.

I am totally ignorant about foundations in general, I dont think the building is going to cave - what happened was, when I moved in, this cellar level that I live on had a very nice hardwood floor. Then over the years we've had several floods coming in from the backyard, which the ll doesn't fix so we tenants swept the water out. Eventually he had to rip out the flooring per the city I guess and he put in crappy material - so now that the hallway is covered in water, you can step on the floor, and water seeps out from under the floor. Picture like crappy planks of ..not wood, not plywood, not sure what it is but it is lightweight uneven and planky is the layout. and now there is space between the planks from water damage. But I guess the foundation is underneath that? I dont know how buildings are constructed but should learn.

The hallway affected is away from my apartment but on our floor. The units that don't have stair entrances got really screwed, one of the tenants steps on her own floor and water seeps out. She is moving out asap.

I definitely don't want to stay here. And I have a great amount of savings, but am not ready to buy, and I won't spend 2k on rent- which means when I leave, it will likely be moving out of NYC where I grew up, for life. I've seen neighbors move out etc and it makes me feel like the LL is winning, but I know I can't neglect my health just for the sake of not letting him get away with it.

"Also remember, that even if the water source is repaired (not a band-aid), you can still claim warranty of habitability as a defense or counterclaim in a non-pay."
You are amazing. I can't tell you how much i appreciate all these tips.

I love that you care about my wallet, thanks so much!!! These links are insanely good. I shake my head when I read your posts, in disbelief at how helpful you are.
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