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My landlord wants to keep me from opening my window all summer. Is this legal?

Legally speaking, a bedroom must have at least one window or balcony opening onto a street, yard, or courtyard.

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Question:

I rent in a high-rise building and live in an apartment that has a balcony connected to the bedroom. The balcony door is the only means of access to outside from the bedroom. I recently received an email saying the building plans to lock all balcony doors until late summer to conduct preventative maintenance. This will leave my bedroom with no window. Is this okay?

Answer:

Your landlord's plan appears to go against New York City's building code, according to our experts.

For a bedroom to be considered legal, it is supposed to have at least one window or balcony that opens onto the street, a yard, or a courtyard, and have two means of egress, by door, window, and/or balcony.

"This issue often comes up when people rent a duplex apartment and the landlord markets it as a two or three bedroom, but technically, the downstairs can only be used as a rec room if it lacks a window," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (and FYI, a Brick sponsor).

Furthermore, the building code dictates that tenants must be able to open and close their windows themselves. So you may be able to push back on the proposal.

"It appears that the landlord may not be permitted to do what they are proposing," says Neil Garfinkel, an attorney with the law firm Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson. "The tenant could contact the owner or management company and ask them to confirm that they have the legal right to what they are proposing. I would put this in writing to create a record of it."

One way the work might be allowed is if your landlord is doing it to follow Local Law 11, which requires building owners to have the exteriors of their properties inspected regularly and repaired if needed. Still, your landlord's timeline might be excessive.

"I don't really see [the Department of Buildings] having a problem with a temporary modification in the interests of preventative maintenance," says Toby Cohen, an attorney with the firm Holm & O'Hara. "However, if the balcony stays locked for months after the work is done, then it would probably be more of an issue."

Given the ambiguities here, you may want to contact a landlord-tenant attorney for further advice.


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