NYC Heat Law: Know Your Rights

Written by JustFix.nyc
Updated 06/23/2020

If you've ever lived in an apartment that can feel as bitterly cold inside as the New York winter does outside, you've probably wondered what the heat laws are in New York City. The city has legal protections in place for renters to protect them from landlords who may want to cut costs or push you out of your apartment. Read on to learn more about your rights to heat and hot water as a tenant.

What is Heat Season?

Heat Season officially runs from October 1st through May 31st every year, but that doesn’t automatically mean the heat starts blasting that same day. Heat provided in the building as well as in your individual apartment depend on a few factors. Landlords, in private housing as well as in the public housing developments of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), are required to provide heat during the following times and under the following conditions:

  • From 6 AM - 10 PM: if the outside temperature falls below 55°F, then the inside temperature must be at least 68°F everywhere in your apartment and in your building

  • From 10 PM - 6 AM: regardless of the outside temperature, then the inside temperature must be at least 62°F everywhere in your apartment and building

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What Happens When It’s Not Heat Season?

Even when it’s not Heat Season, you still have rights. Every day of the year, the Heat Law requires that hot water must be available at a constant minimum temperature of 120°F in your apartment. In order to verify the water temperature, you will need to purchase a sensor or thermometer that is specifically designed to be in water. We’ve heard that the city agency that administers the building code, Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), uses a sensor like this to measure water temperatures. Once you get a water temperature sensor, simply run the hot water over the sensor for 5 minutes or so to give it time to heat up, then record a temperature reading. Take pictures and videos when you do this process, including something that shows the date, like a newspaper, just in case you need to prove when the issues are happening.

Sometimes there is too much heat or the water temperature is dangerously hot in your apartment. This issue is designated as excessive heat. Excessive heat complaints are only accepted between June 1st and September 30th, and there aren’t any laws in place that penalize landlords for overheating. However, you can still make complaints via 311 or to NYCHA as long as it’s during the June to September time frame, and landlords are required to address it.

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What To Do If You’re Not Getting Heat Or Getting Excessive Heat

If you are not getting heat, you’re unfortunately not alone. In 2018, there were 377,732 complaints filed with HPD. There is less information about excessive heat, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem. The good news is that you can take a few steps to fix these issues:

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1. Document the temperatures and send them to your landlord

Before Heat Season begins, get an indoor thermometer, put it on a wall away from direct sunlight, and choose different times during the day and night to check the temperature shown. You’ll want to take a picture of the temperature reading, as well as pictures of the outside temperature. It could be helpful to take a screenshot of a weather report or a newspaper, to verify the date and time that you recorded the temperature.

If you’re looking for a less intensive, more accurate way to keep track of the temperature inside your apartment 24 hours a day, you may want to contact Heat Seek, an organization that creates heat sensors that make an automatic online log of heat data that can be used as evidence in court. Heat Seek currently offers sensors for purchase, or you can get on a waiting list to qualify for a free sensor. If you need the sensor sooner rather than later, you may want to reach out to your local elected officials, or Heat Seek's past legal partner organizations, to see if they will purchase sensors for you.

Once you have your documentation, include it in a formal letter to your landlord, and mail the letter to your landlord with USPS Certified Mail so that you have a receipt of its delivery.

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2. Contact 311 or the NYCHA Customer Contact Center to submit a complaint

If you’re living in private housing, you can turn up the heat on your landlord by calling 311 and saying “apartment maintenance”, or submitting a complaint via 311 online. Once the complaint has been submitted, your landlord will get an alert from HPD and should respond within 24 hours. You can see more info about the complaint process here.

If you live in a NYCHA development, you can call the NYCHA Maintenance Hotline at  (718) 707-7771. They can help you get in touch with the management company in the case that your development has private management. If you prefer, you can also submit a complaint via the MyNYCHA website.

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3. Sue your landlord to court for not providing essential services

If you’ve tried other remedies, it may be time to start a legal case against your landlord. JustFix.nyc has created a tool called the Emergency HP Action that will allow you to easily create the paperwork to start this process, and get you connected to an attorney. It functions for tenants living in public or private housing, and you don’t ever have to physically go to housing court while using the tool. Lack of heat is considered an emergency issue so your landlord knows they must correct the issue, especially if the court orders them to fix it.

Persistence is key to enforcing your right to heat, so keep making your calls, submitting your complaints, and keeping a record of the heat and hot water issues until the problems have been resolved to your satisfaction.

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