Have you heard of "Warranty of Habitability" (Real Property Law 235-b)? LawNY.org reports "Warranty" means promise. "Habitable" means that the rental unit is a safe and decent place to live. Any landlord who rents you a place to live must keep it in safe and decent condition, and must do needed repairs. This is true even if you do not have a written lease.
Under New York State Real Property Law 235-b, landlords have a duty to make all repairs that are not a result of damage or negligence by tenants, their family members or their guests. Landlords are required to keep rental units free of life, health and safety hazards (Warranty of Habitability).
This law is enforced through state and local property codes. If you live in an apartment that has repair needs we suggest taking the following steps:
1. Always put your request for repairs in writing to the landlord. Sign and date the letter and make a photocopy for your records.
2. If your landlord does not make the repairs you quested in what you consider to be a reasonable amount of time you have a right to call a building inspector. For property located in the City of Rochester, the number is (585) 428-6520. They will give you the number for the NET Office closes to your rental.
3. A building inspector will look at the problems and note code violations. The landlord will be sent a “Notice and Order” which will list the code violations and a time frame for repair.
4. If you are on public assistance be sure to let the inspector know. The Department of Human and Health Services (DHHS) will be notified of the repair problems. In cases where the code violations are serious (life, health or safety hazards), if your rent is paid by voucher, DHHS may withhold the rent from the landlord until such repairs are made.
5. If you are not on public assistance the rent should never be withheld unless you have been advised by an attorney to do so. Any legal advice to withhold rent would have to be based on severe code violations.
Special Note: State law protects tenants from retaliation by a landlord for exercising their right to contact a building inspector, health inspector or any government code enforcement officer. A landlord may not serve a notice to move on a tenant or commence an eviction proceeding within six months of the date of an inspector’s report of code violations. It is also illegal for a landlord to substantially alter the terms of a tenancy in retaliation, including raising the rent with the intention to retaliate. Tenants, however, must continue to pay rent unless legally advised to withhold it and abide by the terms of the rental agreement. The law protecting tenants from retaliation also applies to situations where tenant started or joined tenants’ union or organization, according to Rochester.edu
Contact the Tenant Defense Program to learn more about legal representation.