How Do I Force My Unresponsive Landlord to Make Needed Repairs?

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How Do I Force My Unresponsive Landlord to Make Needed Repairs?

Q: I live in a rent stabilized apartment in a medium sized pre-war building in Brooklyn. A few months ago the ceiling in my shower started leaking. Then part of the ceiling collapsed over the leak. The janitor covered the hole with cardboard but never fixed the leak or the ceiling. I’ve called many times and he always says “tomorrow” but he never fixes it. I also called management twice and sent pictures. The wall seems to be moldy. The box begins to fall apart. What should I do?

A: There’s a lot you can do. First, call 311 to request an inspection with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. An inspector would most likely find a violation that might not immediately solve your problem but would create a paper trail of evidence.

“In general, filing criminal charges doesn’t do much good,” said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan attorney representing tenants. “Landlords will rarely answer.”

At the same time, submit a so-called HP procedure to the housing court. It’s basically a lawsuit against the landlord, asking the court to order the repair. “That’s the quickest way to get it done,” Mr. Himmelstein said. These cases tend to move quickly, and the landlord usually settles and approves the repairs.

This process should definitely fix your ceiling. Solving the mold might be more complicated. Mold remediation is not cheap and can sometimes be extensive. You would need to prove you have mold and your photos alone are not enough. You would also need to hire your own expert to determine the extent of the problem and make recommendations on how to fix it, Mr. Himmelstein said. Mold can pose serious health hazards, so if you’re concerned, take that extra step.

You should also be entitled to a rent reduction for this period. Start by asking the landlord about it. If your application is denied – which is likely to be the case – you can withhold the rent in full. If the landlord took you to a housing court for non-payment, your defense that the terms violated your livability guarantee would be a state rule. After all, you would have to pay back part of the rent for this period, but not all of it.

However, once your ceiling is fixed, you might decide the rent reduction isn’t worth the headache of another court day.

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