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Can I stop my landlord from construction that will block off my windows?

By Virginia K. Smith | January 30, 2017 - 2:59PM 

My landlord may try to rezone his property and build up the garage next to my second floor apartment. This means he will wall up one side of the building and in effect, wall us and the existing windows up. Do we have any recourse?


Unfortunately, your landlord is likely within their rights to build up the garage, even if it means that you lose your windows on that side of the building, say our experts. But if the windows are in the apartment's bedrooms, they may be violating the terms of your lease.

The problem here is that the windows in question are likely what's known as "lot line windows," (we've got a full explainer about them here), which are located on the building's property line, usually the side of the building. With these windows, you always run the risk of adjacent construction blocking them off, which is perfectly legal. (For this reason, sales of apartments with lot line windows tend to be discounted accordingly.)

"If your window is a 'lot line' window, unfortunately, you're up the proverbial creek without a paddle," says Compass agent Shirley Hackel. However, there's one very important detail to keep in mind here, which is that bedrooms in New York City are required to have at least one window in order to be considered legal.

"If a bedroom is left without a window, you lose that room from your total room count," says Hackel. (This is why you'll often see bedroom-like spaces marketed as an "office" or "additional living space" instead of as an official extra bedroom.)

"Every bedroom must have an operable window," concurs Jeff Reich, a real estate attorney with SSRGA. "If the lease specifies that there are a certain number of bedrooms, and blocking the window forecloses one of the rooms from being used as a bedroom, that would be a breach of the lease."

And if this construction means that there will be no operable windows in your apartment at all, the whole apartment would be rendered legally uninhabitable, says Reich, which could entitle you to potential damages, or at the very least, the right to break the lease early.

If you will, indeed, be losing bedroom windows (or all of your windows), bring this issue to the attention of the landlord. Depending on what your ideal scenario is, you may be able to negotiate a discount on rent, or the option to be released from your lease early. If they refuse to play ball, it may be time to enlist an attorney to assess your options.

But if the loss of the windows simply means you'll be losing some views—while retaining legal bedrooms and an otherwise habitable apartment—it just might be time to invest in some new lighting.


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