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Forced to Crank Up the Heat

Q. I am a market-rate tenant living in a converted office building. Instead of a central heating system, the building has HVAC units in each apartment that regulate heat. The arrangement puts the onus (and the cost) of climate control on the tenant. The property manager sent tenants a letter reminding us to keep the heat on during the day. But I see no mention of this mandate in the lease. Can a landlord obligate a tenant to heat his apartment? Why can’t a tenant live in a sweltering or freezing environment if he chooses? Why should a tenant have to pay to heat the apartment when he is not home?

A. New York City has clear rules about heat. Depending on the outside temperature, landlords must provide it to tenants from October through May – and the city can fine those who fail to crank up the heat.

But if a tenant has control over the thermostat and chooses to turn his apartment into an icebox, the city would not step in, so long as his actions do not deny another tenant heat, according to Jennifer Addonizio Rozen, a lawyer who represents tenants.

Keeping the heat shut off in the middle of winter could cause a pipe to burst, or the walls to crack and paint to peel. On top of that, the rules and regulations section of your lease might give your landlord latitude to change policies as he sees fit.

“A landlord can impose new rules that have not even been included in the original lease,” said David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

It might seem unfair that you have to heat your apartment when you are not at home, but if you rented the apartment knowing that you would be responsible for it, this should not come as a huge surprise.

There is an upside to all this: At least you are not forced to run your air-conditioner in the middle of the winter because you cannot keep the heat from blasting up through your radiator.

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