How to Get Your Landlord to Keep Common Areas Clean


Q We are tenants of a rental building in the Upper West Side. The machines are located in the basement which is a shared area. I had been willing to live with the mess in the basement, but I now see a rat scurrying about. A full-size sofa has been sitting in the basement for months. There is also a broken down air conditioner on the floor. An extension cord is wrapped around the pipes and there’s even a knife box with knives on top of the electric meter. All this junk is not clear. What else can I do? I have called 311 to make a complaint, but what else can be done? I’ve called 311 to make a complaint, but what else can be done?

A: Leaving garbage in common areas to attract rats and create fire hazards violates New York’s habitability laws, which hold landlords responsible for keeping apartments and buildings safe and livable. Even though the law may be on your side it can still be difficult to get landlords to take action. Keep copies of your letter, as well as any response that you receive, and take photos documenting the problem.

“Clearly, having these items in the common areas is a fire hazard,” said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan. It seems crazy to have knives in the common areas. Landlords are often reluctant to respond because they don’t feel the consequences will be severe enough. Housing court is the next step, where you may file a lawsuit for these violations. It is an effective method, but it can be difficult for tenants who pay market rates, as a landlord may decide to not renew their lease. Rent-stabilized tenants are protected from this type of action. It’s not legal but difficult to prove. After the ruling, your claim of retaliation would be gone and the landlord could decline to renew your lease from there. After the ruling, the claim of retaliation will be thrown out and the landlord may decide not to renew the lease.