Q: The management of my Kips Bay co-op habitually switches our heating-and-cooling system to air-conditioning weeks before the city-mandated heating season ends. Management claims that changing the system is complicated and expensive, so once it’s changed there’s no going back until the next season. Last year, the building switched over to air-conditioning in April. As a result, there was no heat when temperatures dropped in the early spring, leaving many tenants cold. Space heaters are ineffective and bad for our electric bills. What recourse do tenants have to get building management to comply with city rules?
A: City rules require residential building owners, including rentals, co-ops and condos, to heat their buildings from Oct. 1 to May 31. During this period, known as Heat Season, if outdoor temperatures fall below 55 degrees between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., the inside temperature must be at least 68 degrees; and from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the inside temperature must be at least 62 degrees.
“Compliance with these requirements is mandatory and unconditional,” said Andrew J. Wagner, a real estate lawyer in the Manhattan office of the law firm Anderson Kill.
The rules don’t change just because it is cumbersome or expensive to switch from heat to air-conditioning. A building that fails to adequately heat apartments could be subject to fines, penalties and orders to comply. Tenants should not have to use space heaters, which, in addition to wasting electricity, are not especially safe or effective.
Failing to maintain heat also breaches the warranty of habitability, a state rule that applies to co-op and rental tenants. If your apartment is cold this spring as it has been in the past, keep a record of when this happens by affixing a thermometer to your wall and taking a date- and time-stamped photograph of the temperature. Write the information down in a log. Contact the managing agent with this information and insist that the building follow city heating rules. Your neighbors should do the same.
If nothing changes, call 311 and report the condition, or file a complaint online. The city should send out an inspector, who might issue a violation. Ultimately, a tenant could file what is known as an HP proceeding in housing court, where a judge could order the building to comply with the rules. But hopefully, the building will turn the heat back on with prodding from tenants or the city.
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