There’s plenty of uncertainty this year as we head into the winter but with the mercury dropping below 55 degrees, one thing’s for sure, your building’s heat should have kicked into gear. The pandemic has upended lots of things New Yorkers take for granted but heat season should not be one of them.
Heat season began on October 1st and runs until the end of May. During this time, if the temperature drops below 55 degrees during the day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), your landlord has to crank up the heat so your apartment is at least 68 degrees. At night, the inside temperature must be at least 62 degrees, regardless of the outdoor temperature.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article was published in October 2019 and has been updated with new information for October 2020.]
If your heat is on, great. Your building is compliant with the city’s housing laws. But if your radiator is cold, you may have a complaint for 311. So if you’re looking for solutions because your place is too cold, or, even too hot, read on.
If you don't have heat
If you don’t have heat, contact your building owner, managing agent, or super and let them know that it's time to turn up the temperature.
If they don't honor your request or otherwise fail to respond, call 311 or go online to file a complaint, which can get the Department of Housing Preservation and Development involved. HPD may come to the building and stick your landlord with a costly violation.
Last year, 98,320 heat and hot water problems were reported to the city and HPD inspectors wrote 3,547 heat violations. This is actually a decrease of 22 percent compared to the previous heat season.
If you’re not getting any response from the management company, the agency will send a contractor to fix the problem. This is a cost your landlord will likely want to avoid. Last year, HPD completed a total of $1.1 million heat-related emergency repairs and these are costs that are billed to the property.
If the issue is a broken boiler or other problem with the heating system, you may be entitled to a break on your rent for the days you spent shivering, since landlords—under the warranty of habitability—are required to provide heat to tenants.
It’s not advisable to automatically withhold rent in these situations. In a worst-case scenario, you could wind up in housing court for failing to pay, and even if you'd likely win, it could cost a lot in legal fees. A better option is to negotiate with the landlord for a rent abatement for the following month, and get the agreement in writing.
If you do have heat, but you're still cold
If your radiators are on but you still want to boost the temperature, consider getting an electric space heater, but be sure to take the necessary safety precautions. For example, space heaters should never be kept near anything that could burn, such as furniture and rugs; don’t set them up in bathrooms or kitchens because of the proximity of running water; and don’t place them on uneven or raised surfaces because they might tip over.
Also, avoid overloading your electrical outlets—plug space heaters into a dedicated outlet, not a power strip.
Space heaters suck up electricity that will push up your utility bills. There are plenty of creative and affordable ways to stay toasty at home, including insulating the windows with bubble wrap and cooking with a crock pot (the warmth will permeate the room while you're at work). You can also put down rugs if cold air is coming up through an uninsulated basement.
If you want to see exactly how much power an electrical appliance is pulling there’s some smart home technology that can track and display power usage and help you save money.
If your air-conditioner is still in your window, it could be letting the cold seep in, so it’s worth taking it out and storing it safely until next year.
If it's too hot
Most pre-war buildings in New York use a steam heating system and this typically doesn’t allow you to individually control the heat in your apartment. This means units on different floors and of different sizes all experience the same temperature and renters can often get tropical levels of hot air blasting out of their radiators even when it’s quite warm outside.
There are two types of steam heating systems—one pipe and two pipe. With a one pipe system you can install a thermostatic radiator valve on the radiator that will essentially let you regulate the heat by trapping air in the system. When steam stops coming through the system, the radiator stops working. Radiators need to be retrofitted with this equipment so if it isn’t currently there you'll need to ask a super or plumber to install it for a few hundred dollars. (They may also require maintenance every so often and replacing every five to ten years.)
If you want to regulate a two pipe system, you need a different valve that stops steam from coming in. When installed, along with a thermostatic control valve, it produces the same effect as the valve on the one pipe system—it regulates the heat—but it can be more expensive to put in.
There are also wifi-enabled thermal radiator covers that let users regulate their own heat through an app—although this option is currently only available for full-building installations.
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