Do I Have to Allow the Landlord to Do Building Repairs in My Apartment?

Q: I am a senior citizen and have lived for almost 50 years in a small building in Queens. My apartment is the only rent-stabilized unit in the building. The landlord is installing a new heating system in the building, which will involve major work in my apartment to install new pipes. The current system works well, and it appears the installation of a new system is mainly to bring in more rent for the landlord. Do I have to allow this work in my unit? Will my rent increase once the new heating system is functioning?

A: The law allows landlords to do work in rent-stabilized units, and consequently to raise the rent, but in your case it’s unlikely that the rent increase would follow.

Your landlord must be able to access your apartment to do building upgrades, unless you genuinely believe that the only purpose of the work is to harass you, said David A. Kaminsky, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan.

“The disruption caused by the work should be managed by the workers so as to cause as little annoyance as possible,” Mr. Kaminsky said. The work should be done during normal weekday working hours, with permits and a tenant safety plan to protect against lead, dust, asbestos and other hazards.

As for the rent: Landlords of rent-stabilized tenants can apply to the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal for increases to account for building-wide upgrades, known as major capital improvements. But, these increases are prohibited in buildings where fewer than 35 percent of the units are rent regulated — which sounds like the situation you’re in.

Without that state approval, the landlord cannot increase your rent unless you give written consent. “The tenant does not have to sign off on an increase for improvements done to their apartment,” said Jennifer Rozen, a tenant lawyer in Manhattan.

What about tenants who live in buildings that don’t fall under the 35 percent rule? If the landlord applies for a rent increase based on capital improvements to a heating system, tenants can object by arguing that the existing system has not exceeded its useful life as outlined by the state. The allowable rent increase would be capped at 2 percent a year and must be removed from the rent 30 years after the increase became effective.

In the unlikely event that the replacement of your heating system results in a rent increase, New York City residents age 62 and older with household incomes of less than $50,000 may be eligible for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program, whereby the city will cover the increased cost.

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