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Ask an Expert: Help! I live in a 'hot house'!

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Q. I  live in a building for people 62 years and older. The heat cannot be adjusted unless done so by the super. Two and a half years ago, he turned off 3 of the 4 units. Now that I am in NY all year, I requested that the last one be turned off too. I was left a message by the Manager who said that its getting cold and I have to keep one on! Her tone of voice was like she was talking to someone, because of age, cannot make a valid decision about the heat being turned off! Do I have any recourse or do I just have to live in a "hot house"?

A. Tone of voice aside, the problem here may have to do with the fact that your building could be breaking the law by turning off all of your heat, according to our experts.

By law, building owners must provide heat between October 1st and May 31st, maintaining apartment temperatures of at least 68 degrees between 6 am and 10 pm when the outside temperature is below 55 degrees, and at least 55 degrees indoors between 10 pm and 6am when the outside temperature is below 40 degrees, says real estate lawyer Eric Goidel.

Your building “is correctly trying to accommodate [you] while protecting itself,” says Goidel.

Other buildings may find it's a risk they're willing to take.

“In all of the buildings I have worked in so far, I have had a handful of residents who do wish to keep their radiators off or just slightly on,” says Joseph Shkreli, who currently works as a resident manager of a Manhattan co-op. He notes that the city is quick to issue violations when residents complain of no heat.

Real estate lawyer Stuart Saft identified another possible concern: “If all of the heat was turned off, the pipes could freeze on a cold day and break, causing a flood to the apartments below.”

Whether you are doomed to live in a “hot house” all depends. There could be a mechanical solution such as installing  a temperature sensitive radiator valve to automatically shut the unit off when the room reaches a desired temperature; or, perhaps your unit is broken. (See Boiled Alive).

If all else fails, you may have legal recourse: Real estate lawyer Jeffrey Reich notes that “excessively overheating an apartment could be seen as a violation of the warranty of habitability.”


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