Yes, as long as you did not cause the issue that now needs fixing. But as with most situations in which a person is refusing payment of a contractual obligation, you have to be very careful, and you have to make sure you are following the law to the letter. Otherwise, your landlord will almost certainly sue you for non-payment, and you could stand to lose big.
Repairs that qualify for rent withholding
Your New York landlord is responsible for fixing anything that could be considered an essential service, and in New York City multiple dwelling laws hold landlords to higher standards.
Some peeling paint in a corner of an apartment? Not so much. Lack of heat, roach infestation, bedbugs, no hot water, broken plumbing, dangerous conditions such as broken doors or locks, or other things like that are what qualify.
New York State:
Throughout the state, you can withhold rent for anything that diminishes the value of the apartment's essential services. Read up on landlord responsibilities for repairs in New York to find out what the state considers essential.
New York City
In New York, because of the multiple dwelling law and some previous court cases, you can also sometimes withhold rent for things that don’t quite make your apartment uninhabitable. For example: appliances that your landlord installed (fridge, stove, microwave, air conditioner).
There have also been a bunch of court cases that gave tenants the right to withhold rent when the apartment or building didn’t meet their initial expectations.
Amount of rent to withhold
If you decide withholding is your only option choose an amount that’s in proportion to the inconvenience. According to the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, the reduction should be computed by subtracting from the actual rent the estimated value of the apartment without the essential services.
Where to put the rent that you withhold
Go to your bank and tell them you want to open an escrow account specifically for withholding rent - place the money you are not paying in this account. A few different things can happen next.
The landlord might fix the problem, and ask that you reimburse him the withheld rent. How you respond is up to you and depends on the severity of the issue and how long it took to fix.
The landlord might still not fix the problem, in which case you can either cease paying rent entirely, find a new place to live, or take him to court. Or, the landlord might just sue you for the unpaid rent or try to terminate your lease for non-payment, particularly if he has other reasons for wanting you out. Just be prepared - if you followed the steps outlined above, you should be okay once you get in front of that Housing Court judge. And of course, if litigation is commenced, it might be smart to speak to a landlord/tenant lawyer.
If you don’t think the issue in your apartment is serious enough to warrant withholding rent then you can definitely fix it yourself and pay less rent - just make sure to do this extremely carefully as well. Your other option is always to leave without notice, using a legal concept called constructive eviction.
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