This article was written by the team of housing experts at JustFix
You have rights to repairs in a reasonable amount of time. Know your rights and your landlord’s legal obligations.
Use our online tool to write a Letter of Complaint to your landlord
It’s annoying enough when something just breaks in your apartment, but often dealing with building management to get the issue resolved can be even more frustrating than the problem itself. You have rights when it comes to how long your landlord has to make repairs, so if you feel that you’ve already waited long enough, you might be able to take action immediately. Take note, this article addresses actions you can take if you live in market rate or rent stabilized housing. For information on how long NYCHA has to make repairs and what you can do about that, read more here.
The first question at hand is whether or not the repairs you need are your responsibility or the landlord’s. Landlords are required to maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating and ventilating systems and appliances installed, (such as refrigerators and stoves), in good and safe working order. Let’s say you’ve lived in your apartment for two years, your toilet hasn’t been maintained, and it starts to leak - that’s normal wear and tear, and your landlord is responsible for the repair. If a hole somehow ends up in your drywall after a party, though, you may still be able to work with your landlord to get it repaired, but you’re likely on the hook for the cost and will need to work around their schedule. According to the Warrant of Habitability, “any uninhabitable condition caused by the tenant or persons under the tenant’s direction or control...is the tenant’s responsibility to remedy the condition.”
An easy way to let your landlord know about the repairs you need is by using JustFix.nyc’s free Letter of Complaint tool. After you enter some basic contact info, you’ll be asked to review a check list of common issues, where you can mark off what repairs you need as well as write in your own repairs that may not be listed, and then the tool creates a formal letter including housing code info. You can then choose for JustFix.nyc to mail it for you (the cost is covered!) or you can mail it yourself. You can read more here about how to use the Letter of Complaint.
So you’ve notified your landlord about your leaking toilet using JustFix.nyc’s free Letter of Complaint tool. Now a week has gone by with no plumbers in sight. How long is long enough to wait before you can call someone about it?
According to the New York Attorney General’s Office Tenants’ Rights Guide, landlords have to complete repairs “within a reasonable time period.” That language is intentionally vague because the time required can “vary depending upon the severity of the repairs.” It’s meant to be a common-sense measure. If it’s gotten to the point that you’re looking up resources on your legal options, there’s a good chance your repairs have gone outside that reasonable time period.
If you have waited beyond a reasonable time period, the good news is that you can make a complaint with the city. All you have to do is call 311 and say “apartment maintenance”, or visit the online 311 portal for apartment maintenance complaints. It’s important to note that these complaints cannot be anonymous if they are for specific issues inside your apartment - you will need to share your contact information (full name and a phone number) so that the city can follow up with you.
Once you make your complaints by phone call or online form, the information is sent to the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD). This city agency enforces the housing maintenance code that says that landlords must keep their apartments in livable conditions. HPD takes the information and then reaches out to your building’s management company or the individual landlord themselves to let them know that complaints were submitted, what kind of issues they are (emergency or non-emergency), and what time frame they have to address each complaint.
For most emergency issues, they could be mandated to address it within 24 hours, but for non-emergency issues, the time frame given can be between three to eight calendar days. This is important because when the time frame is up, HPD will come to your apartment to verify what work has been done, if any, to address your complaint. Sometimes, HPD doesn’t give advance notice of their visits, but they may leave a voicemail or a notice on your building door if they have attempted to contact you or come by and can’t reach you. However, if you haven’t gotten any contact from them in three days, it is recommended that you call 311 again just to be sure that your complaint hasn’t been closed.
It is critical that HPD does an inspection of your apartment because if your complaints don’t get resolved in the mandated time frame, then your complaints become violations which come with fines that can build up the longer your landlord delays. The threat of a violation and financial penalty is often enough to scare landlords into fixing the problem, so stay persistent in your communication with 311 and HPD.
If you don't hear anything in three days from HPD, and you’re tired of calling 311, you can contact the Code Enforcement office of HPD in your borough. All offices operate Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM, so you’ll need to call them during that time in order to schedule an HPD inspector visit at a time that you will be in your apartment. 311 cannot schedule inspections, so use the following phone numbers to contact the code enforcement offices:
The Bronx: 212-863-7050
Brooklyn (there are two offices in this borough!): 212-863-6620 or 212-863-8060
Staten Island: 212-863-8100
Once a code inspector from HPD comes to independently verify the unresolved issues, a written violation will be issued. Your landlord or management company will receive another notice alerting them that they have received violations from the city. There are several classes of violations, indicating the level of seriousness, and the time frame allotted for the violation to be resolved:
CLASS A (non-hazardous) - 90 days
CLASS B (hazardous) - 30 days
CLASS C (lead-based paint) - 21 days
CLASS C (window guards) - 21 days
CLASS C (heat or hot water) - immediately
CLASS C (all other types) - 24 hours
As you already know, just because the law requires your landlord to do something doesn’t mean they’ll do it. If they don’t respond to your requests or that of HPD’s—or if the repairs they make don’t fix the problem—you are well within your rights to take legal action against them in Housing Court.
It may feel scary to enforce your rights on your own. The good news is that thousands of New Yorkers are using JustFix.nyc’s suite of products to do the same thing. Additionally, even if your landlord retaliates against you for taking action, you can always call 311 again to let them know, and they can refer you to free legal assistance. The city offers these services to tenants based on their zip code. You can also read more about required and essential services that your landlord is responsible for in your apartment in this fact sheet supplied by the New York State Governor’s office.