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Our landlord shut down services in the building—what can we do?

Rent-stabilized tenants can file a reduction of services complaint with the DHCR. 

Austin Havens-Bowen for Brick Underground/Flickr

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Question:

I live in a prewar building with 200 apartments. Several months ago, the landlord closed our laundry room and stopped collecting garbage after a visit from city inspectors. Now, with local laundromats closed because of Covid-19, our dirty laundry is piling up, and we have to take down garbage ourselves in one of two elevators that is shared with all tenants, one of whom has the coronavirus. This seems unsafe. What can we do?

Answer:

The answer depends in large part on whether you are rent-stabilized, our experts say.

"If you are a rent-stabilized lease holder, you may be eligible for a discount on your rent due to diminution of services, but it's always better to check with the DHCR to know your rights," says Dennis Hughes, a broker with Corcoran

Stabilized tenants have the right to whatever services were provided to them when they first moved into their apartments. If these services are eliminated—for example, if an elevator that stops working, a fitness center is shuttered, or in this case, garbage collection and laundry services are stopped—they are entitled to file a complaint with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. 

"If the DHCR finds that it was a required service, they'll require the landlord to restore it, and roll back the tenants' rent and freeze the rent until then," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (and is a Brick Underground sponsor). 

Landlords can apply to the DHCR for permission to end or modify provided services; in your case, the DHCR might respond to this by lowering your rent by the estimated cost of doing laundry elsewhere. 

If you're a market-rate tenant, on the other hand, there may not be an easy solution for this, unless laundry services are guaranteed in your lease. 

"You could deduct a small portion of your rent if you want to," Himmelstein says. "I've been getting calls from people all over the city who moved into buildings with lots of amenities that are now closed, and I'm advising that they should consider deducting a portion of the rent, especially if the building was marketed to them as having all these services." 

You may also have legal recourse if your landlord's discontinuation of garbage collection is creating uninhabitable conditions in the building, a violation of the Warranty of Habitability, which guarantees all tenants to safe and livable apartments.

"Unsanitary conditions created by inadequate garbage collection could be addressed by an HP action [a proceeding to force the landlord to make repairs], or the tenant could withhold their rent, forcing the landlord to sue them and dealing with the issue in housing court," Himmelstein says.  

Keep in mind that courts are currently closed except for emergencies, so there will likely be delays in the response to any complaints or actions you file. 


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