City code requires your landlord to repaint your apartment every three years. 

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Question:

I've lived in my rent-stabilized apartment for over 30 years in a building that went condo. I asked my landlord to have my apartment painted and I am being told the condo board needs to be involved, and I'm just not getting anywhere. Can I file a formal complaint against the landlord to force him to paint?

Answer:

Landlords of all multiple-dwelling buildings are legally required to paint apartments every three years, so this should be your landlord’s responsibility, not the condo board’s, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

Generally, rent-stabilized tenants in buildings that have gone condo pay their rent to the apartment sponsor or to the holder of unsold shares—that is, someone the sponsor sold the unit to. That person is the owner of your apartment and your landlord.

“The owner of the unit is responsible for everything within the apartment’s four walls—issues like repainting, repairing a broken toilet, and so on,” Himmelstein says. “Common areas and behind-the-wall things, like plumbing and electrical, are the condo’s responsibility.” 

Your condo board should not need to get involved in painting your apartment. However, it is possible that the condo’s bylaws require owners to get the board’s consent for work done in the interiors of their apartments.

“You may have to look at the condo bylaws to see if decorative work like painting requires consent, and if it does, whether consent must not be unreasonably withheld,” says Kevin McConnell, a partner with HMGDJ Law. “The question then becomes what is the tenant and owner’s remedy if the board refuses consent.”

It’s worth checking the bylaws and, if the board’s consent is required, submitting a request to them in writing. But it’s extremely rare that they would refuse to consent to legally required work, Himmelstein says.

And before you file a complaint against your landlord, you may want to try reaching out and getting your request in writing.

“Start with writing a letter and mention the specific law about painting,” Himmelstein suggests. (That law is NYC Administrative Code 27-2013.) “Explain that your apartment has not been painted in over three years and ask the landlord to make arrangements. Start out being pleasant and nice before you escalate.”

If the landlord fails to act, escalation can mean withholding your rent to force their hand, but this could mean going to housing court (and potentially ending up on the tenant blacklist.) You could also file an HP case, which is a proceeding to compel your landlord to make repairs. 

“If you do file an HP case, you should only name the apartment owner,” Himmelstein says. “There’s no way to hold the building responsible.”

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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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