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Ask Sam: Is my landlord obligated to upgrade my ancient kitchen?

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Dear Sam: Is there any type of requirement in rent-stabilized apartments for the landlord to update/upgrade the bathroom or kitchen after a certain amount of time? I moved in 18 years ago and the bath and kitchen are original to the building.

"The short answer to this one is 'no,'" says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. "The landlord does not have to upgrade the bathroom or kitchen after a certain amount of time."

Rather, your landlord's obligation is to make sure your apartment has working cabinets, a stove, sink, refrigerator, etc., that all function correctly, Himmelstein clarifies. "If one breaks, they're obligated to bring in a suitable, equivalent replacement," he says. "For instance, if all you have is a small $400 refrigerator and it breaks, they only have to bring in something of equivalent value. And it doesn't have to be new, it can be used."

And if you're hoping to talk your landlord into some upgrades, you may be facing an uphill battle. "In my experience, landlords do not want to upgrade rent-stabilized apartments, because it makes tenants more comfortable and less likely to leave," says Himmelstein. For absolutely necessary upgrades, you're likely to face two choices. Either the landlord will put in the minimum necessary replacements, or offer to put in something new and better if you agree to a rent increase for what's known as an Individual Apartment Improvement Increase. In this case, you'd agree to pay a permanent monthly rent increase of 1/40th the cost of the work if your building has fewer than 35 units, and 1/60th the costs if it has more than 35. 

"The planned improvements, and your consent to the increase, both have to be in writing," Himmelstein notes. If you're hoping to get some up-to-the-minute appliances but hang on to the protections of your rent-stabilized apartment, it may be worth paying the incease.


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Sam Himmelstein, Esq., represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan.  To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.

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