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Ask Sam: What is a reduction of services complaint, and when should tenants file one?

Rent-stabilized tenants can file a complaint if services like laundry are taken away. 

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Question:

What services are a landlord required to provide under rent stabilization? What’s a reduction of services complaint?

Answer:

Rent-stabilized tenants have the right to whatever services were provided to them when they first moved in, and if the landlord stops providing them, you can file a complaint at the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph, who represents residential, commercial tenants, and tenant associations. The forms are available on the DHCR website. 

The warranty of habitability, the NYC Housing and Maintenance Code, and for buildings with three or more units, the NYC Multiple Dwelling Law, all require landlords to provide certain services—like heat, hot water, extermination, painting, plastering, and basic repairs—to all tenants in NYC, regardless of their status. Tenants who are being denied these services may be entitled a rent abatement, and could commence an HP proceeding to compel the landlord to comply.

Rent-stabilized tenants, on the other hand, are entitled to services beyond these basics, and have the right to make a complaint when they are no longer being offered. They can file individual apartment complaints, if they’re not getting painting, plastering, extermination, or other repairs needed in their apartments, or building-wide complaints, when services that were provided when the tenants first moved in are no longer available.

“This can include an elevator that isn’t working. It also applies if a building used to have doormen who are no longer working there, or laundry facilities or a gym that was initially offered but is no longer available,” Himmelstein says. “These and many others all fall under a reduction of services.”

Himmelstein cites one case in which tenants at London Terrace in Chelsea had use of a swimming pool in a neighboring building, a co-op. When the co-op took away their access to the pool, the tenants filed a complaint, and received a rent reduction of $165 a month—the equivalent of membership to a gym in the neighborhood.

Landlords who want to make changes to the services and amenities they offer to stabilized tenants must apply to the DHCR for permission to end or modify services. If they don’t, tenants can file a complaint.

“With a typical complaint, over issues like a reduction in doorman service or use of the elevator, if the DHCR finds that there’s been a reduction, they will lower the rent by one guidelines increase. The rent will be frozen there until service is restored,” Himmelstein says.

In other words, this means the monthly rent will go back by a small percentage, to whatever it was before the increase most recently set by the Rent Guidelines Board.

“Some landlords would rather live with the rent decrease and freeze than provide the service, which is also why a reduction of services complaint is not always most effective remedy,” Himmelstein says.

When the reduction of services is also a repair issue—the landlord refuses to repaint apartments, for example, or there’s a leak he or she hasn’t repaired—tenants should file an HP action in addition to the reduction complaint.

In some instances, there is a severe reduction of services, such as a vacate order issued when it is unsafe for tenants to remain in a building. After a fire in one building on Riverside Drive, for instance, a vacate order was issued and tenants had to move out.

“In addition to bringing an HP action, tenants filed a reduction of services complaint, and the DHCR lowered their rent to $1 a month,” Himmelstein says. “It was symbolic, and a way to keep the landlord-tenant relationship going while acknowledging the apartments were completely uninhabitable. It took 18 months, but now the tenants are back in and the landlord is applying to restore the rent.”

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Read all our Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer columns here.


Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam at shimmelstein@hmgdjlaw.com or call (212) 349-3000.