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

Q: I live in a rent-stabilized apartment in a medium-size, prewar building in Brooklyn. A couple of months ago, the ceiling in my shower started leaking. Then, a chunk of the ceiling above the leak collapsed. The super covered the hole with cardboard but never actually fixed the leak or ceiling. I have called numerous times, and he always says “tomorrow” but never fixes it. I have also called management twice and sent pictures. The wall seems to be becoming moldy. The cardboard is starting to fall apart. What should I do?

A: There is quite a lot you can do. Start by calling 311 to request an inspection from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. An inspector would most likely issue a violation, which may not solve your problem immediately but would create a paper trail of evidence.

“In general, getting violations placed doesn’t do much,” said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants. “Landlords will rarely respond.”

At the same time, file what is known as an HP proceeding in housing court. It’s basically a lawsuit filed against the landlord, whereby you ask the court to order the repairs. “This is the quickest way to get it done,” Mr. Himmelstein said. These cases tend to move quickly, and the landlord usually settles and agrees to the repairs.

This process should certainly get your ceiling fixed. Resolving the mold might be more complicated. Mold remediation is not cheap and can sometimes be extensive. You would need to prove that you have mold, and your photographs alone will not be enough. You would also have to hire your own expert to determine the extent of the problem and make recommendations for remediation, Mr. Himmelstein said. Mold can pose serious health dangers, so, if you are concerned about it, you might want to take this extra step.

You should also be entitled to a rent abatement for this period of time. Start by asking the landlord for one. If your request is rebuffed — as it probably will be — you can withhold rent entirely. If the landlord took you to housing court for nonpayment, your defense would be that the conditions violated your warranty of habitability, a state rule. You would ultimately have to pay back some of the rent for that period of time, but not all of it.

However, once your ceiling is repaired, you might decide that the rent abatement is not worth the headache of another day in court.

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