I am having serious problems with my landlord. Two weeks ago I came home and found the electricity in my building was turned off. I have not had hot water during this time, either. I’ve spoken with the other tenants in the building and they are experiencing the same problems. It is now day 11, the problem has not been resolved and my landlord will not return any of my calls. What can I do?
-In the Dark in Manhattan
Dear In the Dark,
The first thing you should do is call 311 to report the problem, and make sure you get a confirmation number. Next, find out if your building has a tenants’ association. If not, you may be interested in working with the other tenants in your building to start one.
Also, contact the utility company directly and find out if the landlord has been paying the bill. If there is an outstanding balance you can have a new account opened for the building by your tenant’s association and begin paying the monthly utility bill yourselves. Under Real Property Law Section 235, if the landlord has caused your electricity to be turned off for non-payment, you can pay the bill directly and deduct the amount from future monthly rent. Your landlord’s failure or refusal to pay the charges for past service may also cause her or him to be liable for compensatory and punitive damages to any tenant whose utility service is discontinued.
Finally, a great organization that you should reach out to is the Urban Justice Center (646-602-5600, urbanjustice.org). They can put you in touch with a community organization and/or a community law office to help you organize your tenants’ association, as well as help with any legal proceeding you may need to take against your landlord. If you or the tenants in your building are low income, you may also qualify for free legal services.
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*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.