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It's Too Early to Shut Down the Heat

Kips Bay, Manhattan

Heat Season
April 11, 2019

The high temperature is expected to flirt with 60 degrees today, but only a terminal optimist – or a New York City newcomer – would be lulled into thinking that cold weather is safely in the past. The heating season in the city runs through May 31. It’s the law that landlords, including co-op and condo boards, must keep interior temperatures at 68 degrees or higher if the daytime outdoor temperature falls below 55

So residents at a Kips Bay co-op are understandably up in arms that the property manager switches the building’s HVAC system from heat to air-conditioning weeks before the May 31 cutoff date. 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 made the switch in April, and when temperatures took an unexpected dip, many residents complained of being cold. What recourse do they have to force the board and management to comply with city rules? 

“Compliance with these requirements is mandatory and unconditional,” attorney Andrew Wagner of Anderson Kill tells the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. The rules don’t change just because it’s cumbersome or expensive to switch from heat to air-conditioning. A building that fails to adequately heat apartments could be subject to fines and penalties

Failing to maintain heat also breaches the warranty of habitability, a state rule. To document such a breach, residents should affix a thermometer to an apartment wall and take date- and time-stamped photographs of the interior temperature. Write the data in a log, then contact the managing agent with it and insist that the building follow city heating rules. 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.

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