Ideally, tenants and landlords should work together to maintain their buildings and living spaces. Tenants benefit from having clean and safe spaces and landlords benefit by maintaining value in their investments, retaining tenants, maximizing the rent they can charge and avoiding costly legal expenses and payments. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and too often landlords maintain their buildings poorly which all too often hurts their tenants. Today’s bad maintenance too often becomes tomorrow’s negligence lawsuit.
Consider some cases that I have handled:
- A Bronx property owner ignored a tenant’s complaints about a leak in her bathroom. The water undermined the flooring and one day the woman stepped out of the shower and her foot went right through the floor. She suffered injury to a knee ligament. The landlord wound up paying not only for more extensive repairs, but also for legal fees and a settlement of $70,000.
- A Brooklyn landlord ignored a tenant’s complaints about water leaking from the kitchen ceiling during heavy rain or snow falls. One evening, the woman stepped into the kitchen and a cabinet fell on her, breaking her ankle. That landlord had to make even more expensive repairs due to his failure to act on the original complaints and paid legal fees and a settlement of $425,000.
- A Bronx landlord ignored a broken step on a stairway in his building, despite tenant complaints. One day a young girl tripped on that broken step and fractured her tibia and foot. That landlord still had to make the repair and he paid legal fees and a court award of $560,000.
- A Brooklyn landlord ignored tenant complaints about vermin in the building. One night, while a man slept in his bed, a rat jumped up and bit him on the nose. Only then did the landlord pay for the exterminator he had previously avoided plus he had to pay legal fees and a settlement of $20,000.
Do you see the pattern? Had the property owner acted upon the tenant complaint, not only would the tenant be better off, but also the landlord would have avoided trouble and large legal fees and payouts. My advice to landlords? Listen to your tenants and maintain your buildings; you’re better off in the long run.
What to Do If Your Landlord Ignores Your Complaints?
As a tenant, you have a right to a safe, clean building and your landlord has an obligation to provide it. If you have a problem, you should notify your landlord or his agent (often the building superintendent or the building manager). Most landlords when notified of a problem will act on it. If you do not receive an appropriate or timely response, then you should consider the following steps:
- Notify the landlord (or his agent) in writing of the problem and your request. Your letter should include the date, time and the person you spoke to the first time about the problem.
- If you receive no response, then write a second letter and send it certified mail. The extra emphasis of certified mail often prompts landlords to act and gives you a record proving that you notified the landlord. Again, your letter should note that dates and times of your previous communications.
- If you receive no response, you should contact the appropriate government authorities. In general, if the problem creates a health hazard, you should contact the local Department of Health. Many municipalities have a housing department that regulates rental units and you can call them about non-health related issues. In New York City, you can call the City’s Citizen Service Center at 311 (311 may be accessed outside New York City by dialing (212) NEW YORK). The government agencies will inspect the property and if they find a problem, they will force the landlord to resolve the issue.
- If all else fails, you can take your landlord to court. New York City has a special housing court to resolve tenant-landlord disputes.
You may want to speak with an attorney who handles tenant-landlord disputes. While I focus on personal injury cases and do not usually handle landlord-tenant maters, I can refer you to an attorney near you who does take on those cases.
Throughout this process, you should remain persistent: do not allow the landlord to ignore a problem. Remember to keep a record of all communications. If you live in New York City, you can read more about your rights and options at the website for the Department of Housing and Preservation. (Click here)
What If You Are Injured Due to the Landlord’s Negligence?
If you are injured due to the landlord’s negligence, you may be entitled to seek compensation for your losses. You can sue to recover unpaid medical expenses, lost wages, damaged property and pain and suffering. If you or a loved one has been injured and you think the injury resulted from the landlord’s negligence, you should contact a New York personal injury attorney experienced with landlord negligence and premises liability cases. I have handled many such cases (click here to see a sample) and would be glad to advise you. There is no charge for the consultation. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me.
What if the Landlord Harasses Me Because I Complain?
It is illegal in New York for a landlord to harass tenants. If the landlord does harass you, he can face criminal and civil penalties. (Click here to read about harassment penalties in New York City).
If you feel physically threatened by your landlord (or his agents), you should contact the police. You should also contact the landlord (or his agent) and request that he cease and desist the harassment activity. If you do not receive a proper response from your landlord, you can follow the steps outlined above to notify the landlord and the authorities of the harassment. You may also want to contact an attorney experienced with harassment cases who can help protect your rights.
A landlord who harasses tenants can expect to pay dearly. I handled one case where a tenant worked to organize the other tenants to force the landlord to fulfill his obligations under their leases. The landlord harassed my client and his girlfriend. We took the landlord to court and the landlord paid these clients $1 million.
I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about injuries suffered due to landlord negligence, you may want to consult a New York personal injury attorney experienced with premises liability and landlord negligence. I will be glad to answer your questions and assist you. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.
Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.