Ask Sam: I’m being blamed for a leak that isn’t my fault. How do I get my landlord to fix it?
- Under the warranty of habitability, landlords are required to keep apartments in good working order
- Be absolutely sure you’re doing nothing to cause the leak; you want to avoid being taken to housing court
I’m a rent-stabilized tenant being blamed for a leak that isn’t my fault. Whenever I use my bathtub, it leaks into the apartment below me. A plumber told me the tub needs to be regrouted and re-tiled, but the super and landlord insist I’m somehow causing the problem. How do I convince them otherwise and get them to fix it?
Your landlord is obligated to keep your apartment in good enough repair that it doesn’t cause major problems for you or your neighbors, says Sam Himmelstein, an attorney at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“This is required under the Warranty of Habitability, which guarantees tenants the right to a safe and livable apartment,” Himmelstein says.
However, he cautions, it’s important to be absolutely sure you’re doing nothing to cause the leak yourself. Tenants have been evicted in the past for repeatedly causing water damage to neighbors’ apartments. He cites one case in which a woman kept falling asleep in her bathtub with the water running, leading to major damage to a downstairs unit. Even though the leaks were unintentional, she was taken to housing court and ultimately evicted.
If you’re confident there’s nothing you can do about the leak and the bathtub needs to be repaired, start keeping a record of the problem when it arises.
“Write to the landlord about the history of this issue, and tell him that if he doesn’t fix the problem, you’re going to file an HP action in housing court,” Himmelstein says.
An HP action compels landlords to make necessary repairs when they’ve neglected to do so. Tenants do not need lawyers to file one in housing court. And since you’re rent-stabilized, as long as you continue to occupy the apartment as your primary residence, you’re guaranteed to a lease renewal, so your landlord can’t retaliate against you for filing the case.
You might also want to talk to your downstairs neighbor who’s being affected by the leaks.
“Let them know it’s not your fault and you’re trying to get the landlord to fix it,” Himmelstein says. “The neighbor might even want to join you in pressuring him to do something about it.”
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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.