As a New York state tenant, you have the legal right to a suitable housing environment that is not detrimental or endangering to your health, safety or life. If you find that your residential conditions don't meet this minimum standard, you can take measures to improve your living situation, and one of the most effective methods is to withhold rent.
When You Can Withhold Rent
You can withhold paying rent to your landlord only under certain conditions, and simply not being able to pay is not one of them. Under the Warranty of Habitability provision of New York state law, every New York tenant has the right to a "livable, safe and sanitary apartment," according to the New York State Tenants' Rights Guide. To withhold rent, you must be able to prove that the housing your landlord provided you is not safe or suitable for human habitation. Examples include not having hot water or heat in your home, or your landlord failing to rid your apartment of a pest infestation.
More About the Warranty of Habitability
The Warranty of Habitability applies to apartments as well as cooperative apartments, but it doesn't apply to condominiums. The conditions of the Warranty of Habitability should be implied in every rental lease agreement, be it written or oral -- otherwise, the lease is void. If a tenant causes the damage or conditions that make the apartment unsuitable for human habitation, the Warranty of Habitability doesn't apply, and the tenant is responsible for fixing the damage or conditions.
Before Withholding Rent
Before deciding to withhold rent, take certain steps to have any problems fixed. Notify your superintendent of any issues, such as a leaky roof or a broken heater, as soon as they arise. If the superintendent or management doesn't respond in an appropriate amount of time, send a certified letter to the owner detailing the issue and your attempts to have it remedied. Keep a copy for your records. If you don't hear back, attempt to contact the owner by phone or in person. If this fails as well, you may begin withholding rent.
You may withhold rent because your landlord breached the Warranty of Habitability, but your landlord may respond by suing you for non-payment. If this happens, you can countersue your landlord for breaching the Warranty of Habitability. You can explore other options in lieu of withholding rent, such as suing for a rent reduction, hiring someone to do the repair or doing it yourself and deducting the cost from the rent.
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