Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer

Is my landlord obligated to replace my bathtub with something safer?

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Question:

I live in a rent-stabilized apartment, with a claw-foot bathtub in the kitchen. I'm 66 years old, and the tub is now a safety concern, but I can't renovate without permission, and the landlord said they'd only renovate if I start paying market rents, which I can't afford (and would raise the apartment out of stabilizations). Is the landlord responsible for taking out the tub, and putting in a safer shower, without raising my rent?

Answer:

Unless you have a specific disability, it may be difficult to convince your landlord to replace your bathtub, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

"If you're disabled, they have to provide what's called a reasonable accommodation," says Himmelstein, which would include setting you up with a safer tub or shower. But those rules may not apply if you don't have a specific handicap that's creating issues.

Without that, you may be able to negotiate with the landlord for a replacement, but also pay slightly higher rent through what's known as an Individual Apartment Improvement Increase (we've got a previous column about these here). With an IAI, your landlord could do the work in exchange for a permanent rent increase of either 1/40th the total cost of the work (if your building has fewer than 35 units), or 1/60th of the cost if it has more than 35 units. In order for this increase to take effect, the tenant must agree to the improvement and the rent increase in writing. 

"Your landlord can't suddenly ask for market rate, but they can ask for an increase based on the IAI," notes Himmelstein.

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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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