Ask Sam: Our landlord didn't fix a broken front door lock and my bike was stolen. Does he owe me?
- Rent-stabilized tenants can file a reduction of services complaint for a door that no longer locks
- Market-rate tenants are also legally entitled to a secure building and can initiate an HP proceeding
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The lock on the front door to my building has been repeatedly tampered with and anyone can get in. My neighbors and I reported it to management, but they didn’t fix it in a timely way, and my bicycle was stolen from the building. Does the landlord owe me for the bike since he neglected to fix the lock?
New York City building codes require heavy-duty locks on entrance doors, and it is your landlord’s responsibility to repair any damage to the lock, says Sam Himmelstein, an attorney at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“Whatever level of security your building has, if that level is reduced and the landlord is notified of it, they are responsible for addressing it,” Himmelstein says. “And if their failure to maintain the same level of security results in you losing something of value, they should reimburse you.”
If you’re a rent-stabilized tenant, it may be a bit easier to compel your landlord to act than if you are market-rate. Under the rent stabilization code, tenants have the right to the same level of services offered in their buildings as when they moved in—which could mean doorman service, for instance, or the use of an elevator. When previously-offered services are changed in some way, tenants can file a reduction of services complaint with New York State's Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which will reduce and freeze their rent until the services are restored.
Market-rate tenants are still legally entitled to a secure building. If your management has been slow to make the necessary repairs, have a talk with your neighbors.
“This is an issue for tenants to organize around as a group,” Himmelstein says. “Consider filing an HP proceeding in court, which compels landlords to make repairs.”
If a reduction of services complaint is filed, DHCR will send an inspector to come look at the door, but if the door is fixed and then the building is broken into again, the timing of the inspection may not work out. If an HP Proceeding is filed, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development will send an inspector and if they see the broken lock, place a violation which will encourage the landlord to repair the lock and provide evidence in the court proceeding. Another option is to discuss, as a group, chipping in and investing in better security for the building.
As for your bike, if your landlord won’t reimburse you, you could take him to small claims court—but you’ll need to demonstrate his negligence, among other matters.
“You’ll have to show the front door was broken and the landlord was negligent in repairing it,” Himmelstein says. “You’ll also have to demonstrate that this resulted in the bike being stolen, as well as prove the value of the bike.”
And even if you can do this, you’ll likely only be reimbursed for the current market value of your bicycle, rather than whatever you initially paid for 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.