This article was written by the team of NYC-based housing experts at nonprofit JustFix
Heat and hot water are essential services that all landlords must provide and maintain, especially during the winter season.
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Because New York City has both scorching summers and freezing winters, most renters struggle with temperature issues in their apartments all year long. While the law offers limited protection during the warmer months, the City has fairly strong heat laws from October through May. Despite these strong legal protections, hundreds of thousands of renters complain about a lack of heat and hot water every winter. In 2017, New York City strengthened its heating laws by both increasing the length of “Heat Season” and beefing up indoor temperature requirements. Here’s the rundown!
Heat Season: Every year, Heat Season starts on October 1st and ends after May 31st. During Heat Season, landlords must keep the inside temperature at specific levels.
Required Temperatures: The required temperature inside a rental apartment depends on the time of day and the outside temperature:
From 6 AM - 10 PM: if the outside temperature falls below 55°F, then the inside temperature must be at least 68°F everywhere in your apartment and in your building.
From 10 PM - 6 AM: Regardless of the outside temperature, the inside temperature must be at least 62°F everywhere in your apartment and building.
Excessive Heat? On rare occasions, HPD will place a violation for excessive heat in an apartment. HPD will likely only place an excessive heat violation outside of Heat Season (June 1–September 30). If you believe your apartment is too hot, first contact your landlord. If your landlord doesn’t address the issue, you can call 311 to ask for a City inspection.
Unfortunately, getting your landlord’s attention during Heat Season can take some effort. Remember that working together with your neighbors will likely be more effective. Consider taking each of these actions as a group!
Here are some ways to put pressure on your landlord:
Before taking official action, try contacting the owner, manager, or super:
Private tenants: Contact the management company, super, or landlord directly.
NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority aka Public Housing): Call the Customer Contact Center (“CCC”) at (718) 707-7771 or use MyNYCHA (on.nyc.gov/mynycha).
If your landlord doesn’t respond quickly, start collecting evidence! Keep a heat and hot water log (click here for a sample).
Lack of Heat: Most corner stores sell a thermometer meant to measure air temperature (not human body temperature!) for a few dollars. Here are some heat log tips:
Note the exact date and time of your temperature reading. The required temperature depends on the time of day.
Note both the inside and outside temperature.
If more than one person is keeping the log, the person taking the reading should note down their initials. If a witness was present, have the witness initial too.
Take a few readings per day, both at night and during the day.
Record where in the apartment (i.e. what room) you took the reading and try to take the temperature in the same place every time.
Record the date, time, and temperatures “contemporaneously.” This means writing down the information immediately. Do not wait until the end of the day or week to fill in your heat log.
Lack of Hot water: For about $10.00, you can purchase a water temperature thermometer (or repurpose a cooking thermometer). Run the water for 5-7 minutes and record a video of yourself taking the temperature.
If your landlord doesn’t immediately respond to your complaints, you and your neighbors may also want to consider contacting the City by calling 311 or making a report online. When you call, ask to report a heat or hot water violation to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”) — the City agency responsible for enforcing the housing code. When you call 311, you can complain about your own apartment as well as the heat and hot water in the building as a whole.
Failure to provide heat or hot water is an “immediately hazardous” or “Class C” violation that can carry a penalty of $250.00 per day (sadly, collectible only by the City). As soon as you call 311, HPD will immediately notify your landlord via phone or email of the complaint.
Unfortunately, an inspector may take a few days to come, and by then, the temperature outside may have risen or the heat or hot water may have finally come up. Particularly in the fall and spring seasons when outside temperatures vary widely, you may have to call a few times before an HPD inspector places a violation. But, a violation serves as powerful proof of your heating issues.
Keep in mind that the more neighbors who complain, the more likely HPD will place a violation. Ask your neighbors to get involved as well if their apartments also lack heat and hot water.
Currently, calling 311 is not an option for NYCHA tenants. Read about “Starting an HP Action” in the next section to assert your rights to heat and hot water in NYCHA.
If you have no heat or hot water, consider starting an HP Action in Housing Court. Both NYCHA and private renters can file HP Actions for repairs needed in your apartment or the common areas of the building. Learn how to file an HP Action by visiting the NYC Housing Court website. For extra tips, visit Housing Court Answers website.
*KNOW THE RISK: If you are a “market tenant” (i.e. not NYCHA and not rent stabilized/controlled), you may have fewer protections against eviction or large rent increases.
Calling 311 or starting an HP Action may upset your landlord. An upset landlord could refuse to renew your lease or may increase your rent. This is illegal retaliation. If you’re concerned about retaliation, you can call and report a heating violation anonymously. The downside? The inspector may not be able to get into the building and won’t be able to measure the temperature inside your individual apartment.
The New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal (“DHCR”) has the power to freeze or even reduce rents in rent stabilized and rent controlled apartments based on a lack of services such as heat and hot water. To file a complaint, fill out DHCR’s heat and hot water complaint form online and follow the instructions carefully.
Your complaint is most likely to prevail if HPD has already placed a heat or hot water violation in your building. Remember, you and your neighbors may need to call 311 multiple times before an inspector places a violation. Call frequently!
Hot Water: Between June 1st and September 30th, New Yorkers still have the right to hot water. Every day of the year, your landlord must provide hot water at a minimum of 120°F.
Overly Hot Water: Scalding hot water also poses a serious health risk to you and your family members all year long. If you think your hot water poses a burn threat (defined as above 130 °F), you can call 311 to ask the City to place a “scalding hot” water violation.
Excessive Heat: If your landlord happens to heat your apartment outside of Heat Season, you can call 311 to report an excessive heat violation.