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At What Point Does My Landlord Owe Me Some Apartment Repairs?

Q: My wife and I have rented a market-rate two-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, since 2013. During that time, we’ve requested once to have some rooms painted. But other kinds of wear and tear have developed over the years: The hardwood floor is losing its seal, some kitchen cabinet doors are chipping, and the wood under the bathroom sink is peeling. Our refrigerator is in working order, but it’s unattractive. Is there a law that states that after 10 years the tenant is entitled to some minor renovations? We would like the landlord to complete them.

A: In order to have a right to the kind of repairs you describe, you must show that the problems in your apartment violate city codes meant to ensure that tenants have livable apartments.

In general, the items you’re inquiring about wouldn’t breach the city’s warranty of habitability, nor would they violate the city’s multiple dwelling law or Housing and Maintenance Code. If your floors or cabinets are splintering, or the refrigerator doesn’t work, the landlord does have to repair them, said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants. (Rent-stabilized tenants have more rights than market-rate tenants when it comes to unit maintenance.)



One upgrade that is required under the law: paint. The city’s housing maintenance code requires landlords to paint rental apartments every three years in buildings with three or more units. In smaller buildings, the landlord is required to paint as necessary.

You can ask for your desired repairs, but beware: The landlord can choose not to renew the lease of a market-rate tenant that is making complaints. This isn’t legal, but retaliation claims are difficult to prove in court, Mr. Himmelstein said.

You could take on some repairs yourself, but check your lease so you have a full understanding of which kinds of changes can be performed by the tenant. Violations of the lease could lead to eviction or nonrenewal, said David A. Kaminsky, a real estate lawyer based in Manhattan.

“Some tenants would just go ahead and make these repairs on their own without even consulting the landlord,” Mr. Kaminsky said. “However I would not recommend that, as there are issues of insurance, and possible injury of workers, and also angering the landlord for doing work without permission.”

If you want to ask the landlord to facilitate these upgrades, first seek estimates to get an idea of what they will cost. Then describe in detail the desired work and the necessary materials, as well as the written estimates, Mr. Kaminsky said. If the landlord refuses, you could suggest a sharing of the cost. Failing that, you could offer to pay.

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