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Image via NYC Department of Housing and Preservation Image via NYC Department of Housing and Preservation
Regardless of the warming temperatures over the next several days, it's once again “heat season” in New York City. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, heat season doesn’t refer to the hottest months but to the coldest months, and officially stretches from October 1 to May 31. During these months, the city dictates minimum temperatures that must be maintained in all residential buildings.

While most owners do comply with local laws, in 2018-2019, 311 recorded more than 230,000 heat and hot water complaints over the course of heat season. In fact, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development was forced to file 2,229 heat cases in court during the 2018-2019 heat season and collected more than 1.5 million in civil penalties from negligent owners.

This article outlines residential building owners’ obligations during heat season, which not only include regulations regarding building temperatures but also hot water access and outside maintenance.

Building Temperatures

During heat season, all residential building owners must maintain indoor temperatures at 68 degrees when outdoor temperatures dip below 55 degrees during the day. Overnight, building owners must ensure that a minimum temperature of 62 degrees is maintained regardless of the outdoor temperatures.

These regulations were originally introduced to ensure that no New Yorker would be put at risk during the city’s coldest months. While this is clearly a good thing, heat season guidelines can also cause another problem—overheated apartments.

Keeping an entire building at 62 to 68 degrees is easier said than done. After all, keeping a unit on the second floor at 62 degrees requires a different approach than keeping a unit at 62 degrees on the twentieth floor. To avoid having a unit dip below 62 degrees at night, superintendents tend to err on the side of caution and raise the heat (fines can be issued for underheated but not overheated units). Unfortunately, this practice can leave tenants on higher floors sweltering, even in January.
626 Greene Avenue, #3B This one-bedroom rental at 626 Greene Avenue has resident-controlled central heating and cooling so not to worry about the landlord's discretion (Corcoran)

Water Temperatures

In addition to the heat regulations that apply during heat season, year-round, owners must provide their tenants with access to hot water at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s right—if you constantly find yourself enduring cold showers, you have the legal right to complain and to have the problem fixed in a timely manner.

Other Heat Season Obligations

During heat season, owners aren’t just required to comply with local laws on building temperatures but also to several other seasonal issues, including leaf, ice, and snow removal. Please note that the owners of multi-family buildings and private townhouses alike are required to comply with them.

  • Leaf Removal: Technically, owners don’t have to clear leaves in New York City, so one shouldn’t expect to receive a summons if a few leaves are scattered on the sidewalk outside their building. But the moment those pretty leaves become mixed with trash and other debris, property owners are responsible for their removal since they will then constitute “debris” rather than “organic waste.” To be on the safe side, it’s advisable to remove leaves on a regular basis. If you want to do more than push them onto the road, collect them and bring them to a composting site in a local park, many of which have reopened.
  • Ice and Snow Removal: While leaf removal is voluntary, ice and snow removal are not—failure to comply will lead to hefty fines. As per NYC Administrative Code, whether you’re an “owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any lot or building,” the snow and ice on all adjacent sidewalks is your responsibility.

    Also, don’t procrastinate. The city even regulates how long you can sit inside before you go to tackle the ice and snow on the sidelines surrounding your building.

    • If it stops snowing between 7:00 a.m. and 4:49 p.m., you must clear the sidewalks within four hours;
    • If it stops snowing between 5:00 p.m. and 8:59 p.m., you must clear the sidewalks within fourteen hours;
    • If it stops snowing between 9:00 p.m. and 6:59 a.m., you must clear the sidewalks by 11:00 a.m. the next day.

    Finally, don’t just push the snow on to the street! Covering a crosswalk, for example, is also a violation. Also, watch out for fire hydrants—you’re also responsible for ensuring they are visible and accessible to emergency crews. For more information, review the Department of Sanitation’s complete guidelines.

Support for Building Owners

Owners can find out everything they need to know about heat season and their obligations on the NYC Housing and Preservation site. If you’re an owner struggling to pay your bills and keep your heat at the regulated level, you may be eligible for help. For more information, explore the Home Energy Assistance Program.

Support for Tenants

If you are a tenant without heat or hot water, first contact your owner or management company. If no one responds or the owner or manager doesn’t fix the problem, contact 311 to launch a complaint. The next steps in the process are outlined here. To find out if there is already an open complaint in your building or to check on the status of your own complaint, visit HPDONLINE.

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Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.