Heating 101: What NYC renters need to know to warm up for fall

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It's that time of year again when the overpowering warmth of subway platforms changes from a cloying death-cloud to a welcome respite from the above-ground chill. In other words, it's officially fall. That also means it's time for your landlord to turn up the thermostat. But what exactly are the rules? And what do you do if you're living in a place that's still too cold or, equally likely, too hot? Read on. 


The city's so-called heat season kicked off on Oct. 1, meaning that if the mercury drops below 55 degrees during the day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), your landlord has to crank the heat so that your apartment is at least 68 degrees. At night, the inside temperature must be at least 55 degrees if the temperature outside falls below 40 degrees. (This is in effect to May 31.)

If you don't have heat: 

  • First contact your building owner, managing agent or super and let them know that it's time to turn up the temperature. 
  • If they don't honor your request or otherwise fail to respond, call 311, which can get the Department of Housing Preservation and Development involved. The HPD may come to the building and stick your landlord with a costly violation, and if management still doesn't act, the agency will send a contractor to fix the problem (another cost the landlord will likely try to avoid). More info on the process is available here
  • If the issue is a broken boiler or other problem with the heating system, you may be entitled to a break on your rent for the days you spent shivering, since landlords are legally required to provide heat to tenants. That said, don't automatically withhold rent. In a worst case scenario, you could wind up in housing court for failing to pay, and even if you'd likely win, it could cost a lot in legal fees and put a black mark on your record as a tenant. A better option: negotiate with the landlord for a rent abatement for the following month, and get the agreement in writing. 

If you do have heat, but you're still cold:

  • Sixty-eight degrees isn't exactly balmy. If you're considering getting an electric space heater (this one from Home Depot comes with a remote control) be sure to take the necessary fire safety precautions. For example, space heaters should never be kept near anything that could burn, such as furniture and rugs; in bathrooms or kitchens because of the proximity of running water; or on an uneven or raised surface, lest they tip over. Also, to avoid overloading your electrical outlets, plug space heaters into a dedicated outlet, not a power strip.
  • Space heaters suck up electricity (and bump up your power bills), but there are plenty of creative and affordable ways to stay toasty at home, from insulating the windows with bubble wrap to cooking with a crockpot (the warmth will permeate the room while you're at work). 
  • And just in case your air conditioner is still in your window, letting the cold in the cracks, here are some tips on the best way to take it out and store it

If it's too hot:

It's an annoying fact of New York life that renters are just as likely to get tropical levels of hot air blasting out of their radiators as not enough heat. That's because traditional steam systems in New York's apartment buildings don't allow for individual control, and it's tricky to balance the heat so that units on different floors and of different sizes all experience the optimum temperature. But, believe it or not, there are solutions:

  •  You can install a device on an old radiator that will essentially let you regulate the heat that comes out. First, take a look underneath: if there's one pipe coming out of the floor, you'll need a thermostatic radiator valve (TRV), which a super or plumber can install for a few hundred bucks. (These often require maintenance every year or two.) If there are two pipes underneath, you'll need a more sophisticated "solenoid" device, which runs up to $1,000, including installation.
  • A more modern version will soon be available from the makers of the Cozy, a WiFi-enabled thermal radiator cover that lets users regulate their own heat via a mobile app (and save on energy costs). It's currently only available for full-building installations, but the company, Radiator Labs, hopes to make individual units available to consumers early next year for about $300 a piece. 


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