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Ask Sam: What can I do if my landlord refuses to fix a bathroom leak?

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I've repeatedly contacted my landlord about a recurring leak in my apartment from a pipe that runs between floors. Each time, after numerous attempts to reach him, the building repairman is sent to simply caulk the opening around the pipe. I don't believe he's a licensed plumber, and the fix never holds—I recently came back from a weeklong trip to find a puddle on my bathroom floor and damage to several personal items. Do I have any recourse?


"The first thing to do in any repair situation where there's a repeat problem that's not being dealt with, is to make a paper trail," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. 

"Start communicating in writing, and in a way where you can prove that your messages were received," he adds. Email is standard (and the easiest method), but faxes, certified mail, a messenger service, or Fed Ex are all options as well.

This provides you with proof that the landlord knew about the problem and failed to act, in case you wind up in court over the issue. And more immediately, communicating requests in writing lets your landlord know that you're serious. 

"Landlords get nervous when you put things in writing, because they think you're going to take it to the next level," Himmelstein explains.

If that fails to do the trick, you can call 311 and try to get them to send an HPD inspector, though as Himmelstein points out, "The problem in this situation is timing—you'd have to have them in at a time when the leak is active."

Your better bet is most likely to bring an HP action in Housing Court which can result in the Court ordering your landlord to make the repairs and potentially be fined and held in contempt of Court if they fail to comply with the order. "Take pictures of the condtion and note the times and dates of problems, so that you have good proof," Himmelstein notes. 

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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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