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Ask Sam: I found out my apartment is supposed to have a dishwasher. Can I get reimbursed for rent overcharges?

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Question:

Dear Sam: I live in an affordable unit in a building that receives a 421a tax break. My rental history states that I have a dishwasher in my unit, which I do not. Could I potentially use this to get management to install a dishwasher? And does this mean I've potentially been overcharged in rent, and could take the landlord to court for six years of overcharges?

Answer:

While you may be able to get your landlord to install a new dishwasher (or at least get your rent reduced until they do), don't expect to collect back rent for the years you've spent doing dishes by hand, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

For starters, the statute of limitations for a rent overcharge claim is capped at four years, says Himmelstein's colleague Ron Languedoc, and you're looking at a six-year claim. Secondly, he says, "This is not a classic rent overcharge case," and tenants aren't typically awarded money based on the landlord's failure to provide a service that's listed on the registration forms.

However, he says, you can file a reduction in services complaint with the DHCR (you can find those forms here), and if succsesful, the DHCR will issue a rent reduction order effective from the time you first filed the complaint—not retroactively, for all the time you've been living without a dishwasher. 

On the bright side, though, if you win a rent reduction, it will be effective indefinitely, until your landlord ponies up and installs a dishwasher.

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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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