How can I force my insensitive landlord to make necessary repairs?

Q: I live in a rent-stabilized apartment in a mid-rise pre-war apartment building in Brooklyn. A few months ago my shower ceiling start...


Q: I live in a rent-stabilized apartment in a mid-rise pre-war apartment building in Brooklyn. A few months ago my shower ceiling started leaking. Then a piece of the ceiling above the leak collapsed. The super covered the hole with cardboard but never fixed the leak or the ceiling. I called several times, and he always says “tomorrow” but never solves the problem. I also called management twice and sent pictures. The wall seems to be getting moldy. The cardboard begins to crumble. What should I do?

A: You can do lots of things. Start by calling 311 to request an inspection at Department of Housing Preservation and Development. An inspector would most likely issue a violation, which might not solve your problem immediately, but would create a paper trail of evidence.

“Generally, getting violations placed doesn’t do much,” said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan attorney who represents tenants. “Owners will rarely respond.”

At the same time, deposit what is called a HP procedure in housing court. This is basically a lawsuit against the landlord, where you ask the court to order the repairs. “It’s the fastest way to do it,” Mr. Himmelstein said. These cases tend to move quickly, and the owner usually settles and accepts repairs.


This process should definitely fix your ceiling. Solving the mold could be more complicated. Mold remediation is not cheap and can sometimes be important. You would need to prove that you have mold, and your photographs alone will not suffice. You’ll also need to hire your own expert to determine the extent of the problem and make recommendations to fix it, Himmelstein said. Mold can pose serious health hazards, so if you’re concerned about it, you might want to take that extra step.

You should also be entitled to a rent reduction for this period. Start by asking the owner for one. If your application is rejected – as it probably will be – you can withhold the rent entirely. If the landlord took you to housing court for nonpayment, your defense would be that the terms violated your guarantee of habitability, a state rule. You would eventually have to repay some of the rent for that period, but not all of it.

However, once your ceiling is fixed, you might decide that the rent reduction isn’t worth the hassle of another day in court.

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