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Ask an Expert: How do I anonymously pressure my landlord to make a repair?

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Q. I rent in a tenement in the Village.  The stairs in my building are worn and decaying along the ledges of each stair. Rather than forming a 90 degree angle at the ledge many of the stairs are now rounded from years of stair-climbing. On some of the stairs, small chunks (about 1"-2") are starting to fall off completely near the ledge.  In addition, some of the stair rails are missing, forming a gap that's about a foot wide (a toddler or a ballerina could easily fit through).  While there is rarely trash is the hallway, its always covered in dirt and dust.

While I'm sure there are far worse buildings, this isn't great.  Are these conditions allowable? If not, is there any way to anonymously report the conditions to the city? I'm a market rate tenant, which means my landlord doesn't have to offer me a new lease if he doesn't want to.  I like my apartment and want to avoid moving if possible, but I'm concerned about falling on the stairs.

A.  The Housing Maintenance Code requires that your landlord keep the building "in good repair," explains real estate attorney Steven Wagner of Wagner Berkow.   As far as your stairs go, he says, "it seems like they are not in good repair from the description." 

If you are determined to remain anonymous, your best bet is to call 311 and request that an inspector determine if the stairs are in good repair and to issue a violation if they are not.

If anonymity were not an issue, notes Wagner, you could start an "HP Proceeding" in Housing Court to compel the landlord to make the repair.

"These proceedings are quite user-friendly and you can start one without an attorney," explains Wagner.  

If there is a violation, the City of New York will enforce the law by requiring the landlord to enter into a court-ordered stipulation compelling the landlord to fix the stairs.  If there are conditions inside your apartment that violate the law and need repair, as long as you list them in the petition, the city inspector will examine them and issue violations for them, too.  If the landlord fails to make the repairs within the court-ordered time frame, you can return to court and request that the judge to hold the landlord in contempt.  

In addition, explains Wagner, the Warranty of Habitability requires that your apartment and all other areas used in connection with the apartment in common with others be free of conditions that are dangerous to life, health and safety.

"Violation of the Warranty of Habitability could form the basis for an abatement of rent," says Wagner. "In short, the tenant has a bundle of rights that should enable him or her to compel the landlord to repair the stairs."


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