Each winter, thousands of renters experience issues with a lack of heat in their apartments. Temperatures have significantly dropped over recent weeks, and many across the city have been filing complaints regarding a lack of heat. As of Jan. 20, 122,451 heat complaints have been filed during the current season. For many renters, the first solution is seeking a space heater.

However, the recent Bronx fire, one of the worst fires in city history, has caused a spark in conversation about the risks of utilizing space heaters in apartment buildings. If you’re in need of a space heater, keep in mind the following tips: 

  • Three feet rule: Keep the space heater at least three feet from anything flammable. 
  • Never leave unattended: Always turn the space heater off when you leave the apartment or go to sleep.
  • Keep out of reach: Never let the space heater within reach of young children and pets.
  • Plug directly into an outlet: Never plug the space heater into a power strip or extension chord. Always plug it directly into the outlet.
  • Keep on a flat surface: Never leave the space heater on an unstable surface, like a couch or chair. Instead, place it directly on the flat floor.
  • Keep in a dry environment: Keep the space heater out of places like the kitchen or the bathroom, where it could come in contact with water.
  • Keep the chord in sight: Always make sure that the chord is visible, not tucked under rugs or furniture.
  • Always have a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector: Consistently monitor signs of malfunction.

HPD Heat Complaint Statistics as of Jan. 20, 2022. (Chart from NYC Housing Preservation & Development’s website) 

NYC Heat Law: Know the renters’ right to heat

According to NYC Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), heat must be provided between Oct. 1 and May 31, also known as “Heat Season.” During the day, between the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside temperature is required to be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Between the nighttime hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the inside temperature is required to be at least 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

What to do if your apartment doesn’t have heat

If you’re without heat, the first step is to contact your landlord or building owner. If unresponsive, the next step is to file a complaint by calling 311 or TTY at 212-504-4115. You can also file a complaint by using 311 ONLINE or the NYC311 app. Next, HPD will attempt to contact your building’s managing agent to advise them that a complaint has been filed and that a violation may be issued if the condition is not corrected immediately. After, HPD will attempt to contact you (the tenant) back to see if the condition was corrected. If indicated that the condition was corrected, the complaint will be closed. 

If the issue is not corrected, an inspector will be sent to check out the reported condition. A translator may be called if needed. The owner or agent is not notified of the inspection date. Inspectors will also check for violations of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, lead-based paint (if there is a child under six), window guards (if there is a child under 11), double cylinder locks and bars on the fire escape windows.

Guide on what to expect when calling 311 about a housing quality or safety issue
Guide on what to expect when calling 311 about a housing quality or safety issue. (Image courtesy of NYC Housing Preservation & Development)

If the inspector writes a violation, a notice of violation is sent to the manager of the building instructing them to repair the issue within a specified period of time, which depends on the severity of the violation. An apartment with no heat or hot water is considered a “Class C” violation, and repairs should be made immediately. If the owner certifies that the condition was corrected, the tenant will receive notice of certification in the mail. If the owner does not certify, the violation remains open.

If an owner fails to restore heat and hot water in a timely manner after receiving a violation, HPD’s Emergency Repair Program (ERP) may contract private companies to restore essential services and send the owner the bill for the repairs, plus related fees. If the property owner fails to pay, the city will file a tax lien against the property. The tax lien will bear interest and may be sold and/or foreclosed to collect the amount owed through the city’s tax lien sale.

HPD usually initiates court proceedings for heat violations. Civil penalties can be effective on the posting date of the notice of violation until the date the violation is corrected. Penalties begin at $250 to $500 per day for each initial heat or hot water violation and $500 to $1,000 per day for each subsequent violation at the same building during the same and/or the next calendar year from the initial violation.

If the tenant challenges the owner’s certification, a re-inspection will occur. If it finds that the condition is not corrected, the violation will remain open. If the violation is certified and HPD does not re-inspect the condition, the violation will be closed after 70 days. If the violation remains open, the tenant may begin legal action against the landlord in Housing Court. Free legal counsel is available those eligible, or tenants can see a representative in any Housing Court for assistance with filing a case.

Tenants can inquire about the status of emergency repair work in their apartments by calling 212-863-5510.

To see if there are any open heat and hot water violations on your building or to check the status of your heat and hot water complaint, visit HPDONLINE.

Tenants seeking further information on issues with heating and other critical elements of apartment living also have access to HPD’s The ABC’s of Housing, which is a guide to housing rules and regulations for owners and tenants. 

Featured image taken by Kylie Becker on Gates Avenue between Seneca Avenue and Cypress Avenue.

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