Ask Sam: Can I get my rent reduced because my windows are blocked by scaffolding?
- Local Law 11 requires periodic inspections of residential building facades and typically involves scaffolding
- However, the Multiple Dwelling Law says apartments need operable windows to allow egress, light, and air
Jay Lazarin via iStock
My building is undergoing a Local Law 11 inspection, and scaffolding is currently blocking my windows. Does this entitle me to a rent reduction?
Yes, if scaffolding is blocking your windows and therefore light and air, you are entitled to an abatement, says Sam Himmelstein, an attorney at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“There can be a breach of the warranty of habitability—which guarantees tenants the right to a safe and livable apartment—even if the cause of the breach is something the landlord is legally required to do," Himmelstein says.
Local Law 11 requires periodic inspections of the facades of residential buildings, and the resulting scaffolding does often end up blocking tenants’ windows.
At the same time, the Multiple Dwelling Law requires that apartments have windows that can be opened and closed in order to allow for means of egress in case of emergency, as well as the flow of light and air.
“If scaffolding blocks light and air, the tenant is entitled to a rent abatement,” Himmelstein says.
If you’re in this situation, your first step should be to reach out to the landlord and request a rent reduction. If they refuse, you could withhold your rent—or a portion of the rent. This would likely spur your landlord to take you to housing court for non-payment of rent, at which point you could defend yourself—with or without a lawyer—on the grounds that the blocked windows constitute a breach of the warranty of habitability.
Most of these cases settle, Himmelstein says.
“If it goes to trial, then the judge would hear your testimony, and you could introduce photos and videos into evidence,” Himmelstein says. “The judge will then issue a decision, and if you get an abatement that’s big enough, you might get your legal fees back.”
An attorney at Himmelstein’s firm recently won such a case, in which the judge awarded the tenant a 25 percent abatement, plus an additional 15 percent because the landlord had failed to put a tenant protection plan in place.
Landlords are required to file these plans with the Department of Buildings when construction or renovation work is being done in a building where tenants are living.
Keep in mind that if you’re a market-rate tenant, there could be risks to going to court for an abatement: Your landlord might decline to renew your lease for another year, and it’s difficult to prove landlord retaliation.
Furthermore, going to housing court can land you on the tenant blacklist, making it difficult to rent apartments in the future.
Rent-stabilized tenants, on the other hand, are protected from this.
“It’s a safe thing to do,” Himmelstein says. “Just make sure to do all the paperwork and make all your court appearances.”
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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.