Q&A: Hot Under The Collar

Q We moved into our Chelsea co-op last spring, and when the heating was turned on in the fall, we learned that the west wall fin tube radiation wasn’t working. This means that we have no heat in the bedroom and partial heat in the living/dining room. We notified the building super and managing agent and the super attempted to get the heat working by getting air pockets out of the pipes, but the attempt failed, and we’ve been shivering ever since. The managing agent then told us that it’s OUR responsibility to contact a plumber, have repairs made and pay for them out-of-pocket. We contend that this is a central system fed from a boiler in the basement, and that the building is required to provide heat to all tenants by keeping the system in working order. Their response is that they are only responsible for providing hot water and steam, and that we are responsible for repairing the control valves or any other part relating to the function within our apartment. We are concerned that any modification we make to their system could impact other apartments and we could be held liable for damage or discontinuation of service.

—Cold in Chelsea

A Richard T. Walsh of Horing, Welikson & Rosen, PC in Williston Park, New York, says: “Without looking at your particular proprietary lease, I cannot say for certain who is ultimately responsible for the cost of the fin tube radiator. Some cooperative leases make the shareholder responsible for repairs to the radiators in the apartment while others make the cooperative liable to repair building standard systems.

“I suggest that you or your attorney review your proprietary lease to see who is responsible for repairing the fin tube radiator and that you get an estimate of the cost (and work required) to fix the fin tube radiator before doing anything else. It may (or may not) be a simple, not terribly expensive repair but you should have some idea of the cost before taking any other steps.

“By law, the cooperative, as your landlord, is required to provide certain levels of heat during the heating season (in New York City, October 1st through May 31st). Under New York City Housing Maintenance Code §27-2029, a minimum interior temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit is required between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. during the heating season if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a minimum interior temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit is required between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. if the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The New York State Multiple Dwelling Law contains a similar provision (MDL §79). To many people, however, these minimum temperatures feel cold. You will need to measure temperatures and to keep accurate records of the inside and outside temperatures to support your inadequate heat claim.

“The simplest way to deal with this problem is to call the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”). HPD is the agency charged with investigating heat and hot water complaints. HPD will send an inspector to your building to take temperature measurements outside and inside your apartment and will issue a notice of violation for inadequate heat. If the cooperative does not remedy the situation, HPD can seek civil penalties and an order of correction (and HPD takes complaints about lack of heat and hot water very seriously).

“If that does not work, you can go to Civil Court and commence what is called a HP action against the cooperative. The end result will be a court order (or a court—ordered stipulation) requiring the cooperative to make the necessary repairs to ensure adequate heat in your apartment. If the cooperative fails to comply, the court could impose civil penalties and fines.

“Once the work is done by the cooperative, however, the cooperative may be entitled under the proprietary lease to charge the costs back to you. That is why I recommend that you see what would be involved (and the cost) if you were to make the repair to the fin tube radiator before doing anything else.”

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