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Every apartment in New York is required to have a minimum of services guaranteed by the landlord. This is the warranty of habitability—the promise landlords must make to keep your apartment and the building safe and livable at all times. It's an important rule that reassures tenants that their housing is safe and tells landlords what is required of them.
This is even more important in a pandemic when government directives say to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The conditions in your apartment should not compromise your health in any way. In addition, as owners and tenants turn to virtual tours rather than in-person appointments, if you are signing a new lease during the pandemic you want to know that the apartment you are renting is going to be somewhere you are safe.
Tenants can argue they are entitled to withhold rent if a landlord violates the warranty of habitability by allowing the apartment to become unlivable. This includes leaks or mold, faulty electrical wiring, or pests like rats and roaches that go unresolved.
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There’s a long list of other issues referred to by the New York State Unified Court System that could put a landlord in breach of this law, including kitchen problems related to your stove, oven or refrigerator; a lack of hot water or heat; malfunctioning radiators; broken toilets, sinks, or tiles; missing carbon monoxide or smoke detectors; faulty locks or intercoms; and windows that don’t work.
If you are facing any of these conditions, your first step is to tell your landlord and give them an opportunity to fix the problem. Withholding rent based on a violation of the warranty of habitability might mean you find yourself in housing court down the line, so if your landlord doesn't address the issues you've raised, getting legal advice is going to be important. Even though courts are closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, emergency cases dealing with unsafe building or apartment conditions are still being addressed.
You shouldn't have to put up with unlivable conditions—the law is there to protect you. The priority is getting somewhere safe to live, especially as New York weathers this crisis. Sometimes tenants can obtain rent abatements if an apartment or building falls into disrepair, the warranty of habitability is being breached, and the landlord isn't doing anything about it. Another outcome might be a court order requiring the landlord to make the repairs or restore services.