Mold was found in my apartment and my landlord says that I need to be out of there while it is being cleaned up. He offered me an apartment in one of his other complexes as a permanent move. What do I need to know about this situation? Should I expect them to pay a moving company to move me?
The extent to which you can negotiate in this situation depends on whether or not you’re rent-stabilized, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“If you’re a market-rate tenant, it limits your bargaining power,” Himmelstein says.
Whether you are stabilized or market rate, there are limited circumstances under which your landlord is obligated to move you out of the apartment. Under NYC law, all tenants are entitled to a livable, safe, and habitable apartment under the warranty of habitability. Typically, though, this just requires landlords to address any problem that makes an apartment unsafe. In some cases—for example, if lead is found in an apartment where there are children under six years old—the landlord might have to temporarily move tenants out while making repairs.
“By offering the tenant another apartment, he’s actually doing something he’s probably not required to do, and in a market-rate apartment your bargaining power is limited,” Himmelstein says. “If the tenant pushes back, the landlord might decide not to renew the lease.”
There’s also the matter of the mold in your apartment, which can cause plenty of health issues. Even if you’re not crazy about the idea of moving, it may be in your best interest to do so, especially if your landlord doesn’t do a perfect job of remediating the mold.
As for moving expenses, theoretically you might be able recoup the expenses if you’re willing to go to court. But again, it’s probably easier to just go with the flow in this situation.
“Legally, if you sued the landlord and said he negligently caused mold to infest the apartment, you could get consequential damages, which would include moving expenses,” Himmelstein says. “But then, if you are a market-rate tenant, the landlord is likely to not renew the lease, and even though New York City has anti-retaliation laws, they’re hard to enforce.”
If you’re a rent-stabilized tenant, on the other hand, you have greater legal protections.
“If the tenant is rent-stabilized, then they have every right to be returned to the original apartment,” Himmelstein says. “This is a contrast between stabilized and market-rate tenants. If the landlord wants you out to do repairs, you have every right to come back to the apartment you started out in.”
Rent-stabilized and market tenants may also be entitled to rent reductions due to the presence of mold.
If you are stabilized and do end up moving back in, he adds, make sure to get a copy of your landlord’s post-remediation report and clearance testing, which must be done by a different company than the one that did the original testing, to make sure the mold problem has been fully addressed.
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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.