Q: I have lived in a rent-stabilized apartment in the Bronx for many years, and the refrigerator is on its last legs. I have to set its temperature to the coldest setting just to keep the food cool, and sometimes the food in the back of the fridge freezes. We recently replaced the seal on the door, because it wasn’t properly closing. This fridge used to be in the basement, and it was given to us as a loaner when our last one broke. My landlord promised us a newer, larger one but never followed through. When I asked to buy one on my own, my request was denied. Does my landlord have a right to do this? How can I get a functioning refrigerator?
A: Your landlord is supposed to service, repair or replace a refrigerator that is supplied to you as a rent-stabilized tenant. The landlord does not necessarily need to give you a new one, but you should be provided a refrigerator that is in good working order, said Peter A. Schwartz, a lawyer who specializes in rent stabilization and is head of the real estate department at the law firm Graubard Miller in Manhattan. You could bring what is known as an HP proceeding in housing court against the landlord, and the court could order your landlord to repair or replace the refrigerator.
If you want to avoid housing court, you could just buy a new refrigerator yourself. Most residential leases prohibit tenants from making alterations to their apartments without their landlord’s consent. But the courts have ruled that installing a new kitchen appliance doesn’t violate the lease agreement if the landlord failed to make the repairs after repeated complaints, Mr. Schwartz said.
But you need to put the landlord on notice. Write the landlord another letter explaining that the refrigerator does not properly work. Take pictures of a thermometer inside the refrigerator showing the warm temperature, and photograph the frozen-over food, too. Explain that if management fails to repair or replace it, you would like permission to buy a fridge of your own.
Then, buy a new refrigerator, and ask your landlord to remove the existing one. The appliance will be yours to maintain, repair and eventually sell or take with you when you move out.
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