I was just notified that in a few days the elevator in my rental building is going to be out of service for upgrades. There are elderly and disabled tenants who can't use the stairs. What is our landlord obligated to do for them?
You can argue that the landlord must provide reasonable accommodation for these tenants under New York City's Human Rights Law, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph, who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
In older NYC buildings, it’s not surprising that elevators occasionally break down or need modernization. And when this happens in a building that has elderly residents, tenants with disabilities, or renters who have small children and strollers to carry, taking the stairs for a few weeks may not be possible for them.
Accommodate tenants who can't take the stairs
New York’s Human Rights Law protects residents against discrimination on the basis of age and disability, among many other categories, so when this kind of situation arises, tenants should hire a lawyer who will represent them as a group and argue that their landlord must provide reasonable accommodation for them.
“This usually means a relocation for the tenants that really need it—for instance, tenants who use wheelchairs and don’t live on the ground floor,” Himmelstein says. “For other tenants who can make it up the stairs but need some help, we ask the landlord to hire a crew to assist with packages and strollers. We also ask that they put chairs and water on every other landing so people can stop and rest.”
Provide advance notice for upgrades
Furthermore, landlords are obligated to provide tenants with advance notice of at least 10 business days before shutting down elevators for modernization. They also must specify the type of work being done, and the start and end dates of maintenance. Himmelstein’s firm is currently representing the tenants of an Upper West Side building who are facing a two-month elevator shutdown and initially were only given a heads up of five days.
Tenants banded together and asked that management delay the shutdown. One tenant even engaged in an act of civil disobedience, staging a sit-in in the elevator on the day repairs were scheduled to start.
“Eventually management agreed to put off work for a week, but then we discovered that shutting down elevators for modernization requires giving residents 10 business days' notice,” Himmelstein says. “We wrote to the landlord’s lawyer that the repair start date was null and void. Now work has been postponed to October, and we’re negotiating the relocation for tenants.
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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 & 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.