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Can't stand the (lack of) heat: Can my landlord charge me extra to replace my radiators?

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It’s a hot topic this time of year: your landlord’s responsibility to heat your apartment. What happens when the building owner claims the boiler is broken and, rather than trying to fix it, plans to replace your radiators with an expensive electric baseboard system?

A Bed-Stuy renter recently wrote to Gothamist worried that their “dishonest and shady” new landlord was lying about the busted boiler to skimp out on paying for the tenants’ heat, and wondered if they could refuse the landlord’s offer to install the baseboards.

The heat is currently included in the rent, but the landlord intimated that this would change when the lease expires at the end of the month. And, while they offered to reimburse the renter for some of the extra cost, the renter is (understandably) skeptical that those payments will arrive promptly, if ever. (Apparently, the tenant's already spent days haranguing the super to turn the heat on, left a message for the management company, and filed a complaint with 311.)

“It seems to me that the landlord has an obligation to repair the (allegedly) broken boiler and cannot shift the responsibility of paying for heating onto us (even if we may get reimbursed) while we have a lease that specifies that the landlord pays for heat,” the reader writes.

First, the bad news: it’s legal for landlords to install gas or electric heat systems in individual apartments and have tenants pay for the charges, according to Gothamist’s go-to tenants’ lawyer, Steve Dobkin.

But here’s the good news: the landlord can’t just up and change the terms of the lease, and if they take rent payments after it expires, that effectively puts you on a month-to-month arrangement with the same terms as the previous agreement. If you’re not getting enough heat, you’ve got the right to a rent abatement. And if the heating system isn’t generating enough heat--if, say, it’s seeping out around the windows--you can file a Housing Part action in Housing Court, though this is not without its own complications (namely, the possibility of landing on the tenant blacklist).

For the record, here’s what landlords are required to do:

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.)

And for more info, read up on “Heating 101," and come prepared next time you go up against the landlord.

Related:

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

Can I get my rent pro-rated because the boiler broke?

A new device is trying to stop landlords from skimping on the heat

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