Landlord's Crappy Boiler Costs Us Big Time

Marcie writes:

I live in a 750 square foot apartment in Brooklyn, NY. Per the lease agreement, my roommate and I signed to pay the heat separate from the rent. The first gas bill we received was $750, and the following gas bill was roughly the same amount. We knew that the price of gas was expensive, but for two people who make great pains to use the heat only when absolutely necessary, and occasionally use the stove to boil a pot of water, this seemed ridiculous. For all of 2007, we owe roughly $2000 in gas costs.

The gas company inspected our boiler; we were told that it was inefficient and outdated, and that our boiler, though supposedly hooked up to meters separate from the rest of the building, used to heat the entire building.

We brought the matter to our landlord, even showing him the graph provided by the gas company that demonstrates that we are paying triple that of the average customer in our area. When we asked him to compensate us for half of what we owe, he laughed in our face and refused.

Does Consumerist or any of its readers know – do we have any form of recourse? Are there rules and regulations concerning the standards by which a boiler must run at? Are there rules and regulations concerning the repairs a landlord must make on a utility that is paid for by the tenant?

Also, my advice to anyone considering entering a rental agreement where the cost of heat is not included in the rent – don’t do it.

Thank You for Reading,
Marcie

(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. Geekybiker says:

    Used to heat the rest of the building, or still does? If it still heats the rest of the building, I’d be turning it off until the landlord wants to take some responsibility.

  2. nyaz says:

    Sue in Small Claims court. There’s always Judge Joe Brown!

  3. loganmo says:

    In accordance with the terms of your lease and any applicable landlord-tenant laws, demand in writing that the landlord make repairs to the heating unit to make it more efficient and also include in your demand a claim for a reasonable portion of your gas bills paid to date. Wait the required amount of time for your landlord to fix it-if he does not, file suit in the appropriate legal venue for landlord-tenant issues in your jurisdiction, and begin paying your rent payments to a court-held escrow account.

  4. Snowblind says:

    IANAL. New York has tenets rights laws, contact a legal specialist.

    The terms you are looking for is Constructive Eviction or Implied Warrenty of Habitation

    [en.wikipedia.org]

    The place is not habitable because the heating supplied cannot be used effectivly. I.E. you can’t afford to eat if you use the heating.

    Also, if YOUR gas meter is used to heat the whole place and that is not SPECIFICALLY detailed in the lease that is theft.

    He (the landlord) is material gaining from a resource you pay for without compensating you.

    This based on your confusingly worded section:
    “And that our boiler, though supposedly hooked up to meters separate from the rest of the building, used to heat the entire building.”

    And I might not be interpreting it right.

  5. Turn off the boiler and heat the place with space heaters (purchased with the savings by not having $750 gas bills), then move when the lease expires, taking the space heaters with you?

    That’s what happens when tenants pay utilities – landlords stop caring about how old your gas boiler is. Of course, if something were to happen…eh…you know…ah…to the boiler…then the landlord would have to fix it. Not that I’m suggesting anything…just sayin’.

  6. Superawesomerad says:

    Don’t live in NYC if you don’t want to get overcharged for everything.

    As for real advice, Marcie should talk to her local tenants’ organization.

  7. observer_1959 says:

    call 311 and tell them that your boiler is heating areas outside your apartment.

  8. howie_in_az says:

    @Steaming Pile: Take the boiler too.

  9. bohemian says:

    We had a landlord do something sort of like this. Our electric bills there were in triple digits all the time. At our previous residence of about the same size they were under $100. The house was on a larger piece of land that also included a warehouse building and one of those big streetlight type yard lights. We are guessing that his other building and this yard light were actually on our house meter. I can’t think of another reason the bill would have gone up to $350 a month. We moved out before we could pursue it though. The house had a failing sewer system he knew about and didn’t disclose either.

    God, this all reminds me why I hated renting.

  10. JiminyChristmas says:

    I’ve lived in apartments that were heated with boilers dating from the 1920s. I’ve lived in Minnesota for 18 years and the highest gas bill I have ever seen was around $300, and for a space a lot larger than 750SF.

    As for these questions:

    Are there rules and regulations concerning the standards by which a boiler must run at? Are there rules and regulations concerning the repairs a landlord must make on a utility that is paid for by the tenant?

    At least where I live, the answers are No, and No. Then again, NYC is a very different place so YMMV.

    If you can do some detective work go look at the boiler and try to follow the pipes. If some of them go to radiators that aren’t inside your apartment, then you have a basis for complaint. Likewise, look for pipes that connect to the meter but not the boiler; you could be paying for someone else’s cooking gas.

  11. mac-phisto says:

    [www.oag.state.ny.us]

    LANDLORDS’ DUTY OF REPAIR

    Landlords of buildings with three or more apartments must keep the apartments and the buildings’ public areas in “good repair” and clean and free of vermin, garbage or other offensive material. Landlords are required to maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating systems and appliances landlords install, such as refrigerators and stoves in good and safe working order. Tenants should bring complaints to the attention of their local housing officials. (Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL) §78 and §80; Multiple Residence Law (MRL) §174. The MDL applies to cities with a population of 325,000 or more and the MRL applies to cities with less than 325,000 and to all towns and villages.)

    & here –> [www.housingnyc.com]

    i would contacting an advocate or lawyer thru this site –>

    [home.nyc.gov]

    it appears as if your landlord is violating the law.

  12. Buran says:

    In St. Louis my house is only a little larger than that apartment, and I only pay $80/month throughout the year, on budget billing. I have gas heat.

  13. mac-phisto says:

    wtf is up with my english today “i would contacting an advocate”

    will the weekend ever come?!? ARRRGHH!

  14. zgori says:

    Complain to 311 and ask them to send a department of buildings inspector. If they find anything illegal in terms of how the boiler is installed or operating, they’ll issue a violation and he’ll have to either make repairs or face fines.

    Also, you can look up existing and historical complaints and violations on your property by entering the address on the department of building’s website. Might be interesting even if it doesn’t directly help your case.

    [www.nyc.gov]

  15. tcp100 says:

    There are still places to rent that include utilities?

    I haven’t seen that on the east coast in at least a dozen years.

    Anyways, the government and the courts are your only recourse in this one. I’m usually hesitant to say “lawyer up”, but this may be the time to do it.

  16. Gorky says:

    Of course if you DO report him or sue him, then he will most definitely have you evicted for one reason or another and youll be without a place to live. Its like complaining in a restaurant that your steak is too rare. You dont want to eat what comes out next

  17. Snowblind says:

    @mac-phisto:

    Sounds like you outsourced youse grammer…

  18. MsClear says:

    You can still find places to rent that include utilities on the east coast. I’ve been living in an apartment with included heat for the past five years, just outside of Boston.

  19. freshyill says:

    So glad I got out of NYC. I was sick of dealing with asshole landlords.

  20. Juggernaut says:

    On the one hand – Marcie writes a coherent letter, was smart enough to contact the gas company and now contact Consumerist…

    On the other hand – she’s a tenant in NYC that doesn’t know a dozen agencies to get after her landlord?

    Call Dad, I’m sure he’ll take care of it… princess

  21. veronykah says:

    @tcp100:
    I had an apartment in Long Island City that included heat in the rent. It was WONDERFUL! The super cranked it up at the first sign of chilliness in the fall and kept it on through the chilly part of the spring, it was HOT in our apartment at times. I will always think fondly of actually being WARM in the winter.
    The irony now is, I live in LA and froze all last winter…heat here is sorty of “optional”.
    I do second that the OP call 311, they can send out a building inspector. I dealt with a landlord and leaky roof in NYC. When I called 311, they sent out an inspector, and once the building was cited, they actually FIXED it. They also mangled our DirecTv dish, but they fixed the leaky roof when they NEVER fixed anything. Forever that build

  22. Snowblind says:

    @Gorky:

    That is covered too, Retalitory Eviction:

    [tenant.net]

  23. Drowner says:

    @tcp100: Just managed to get a place with heat included, which shall be verrry nice come winter since i have the circulatory system of a 75 year old woman. I’ve seen places with all utilities included but those are pretty pricey. Well pricey for a Boston college student.

    And yeah, if you’re paying that bill I say turn off the boiler and huddle around a space heater until some of the other tenants complain.

  24. jjeeff says:

    This article is worthless without a grammar clarification.

  25. ilovemom says:

    Well, since it’s no longer winter, my suggestion won’t work for you, but if anyone else has a similar problem and it’s colder than about 25°F, tell the landlord that you’re calling the gas company to shut off the gas. If you are heating the whole building this will cause his pipes to burst. Of course this is a bluff on your part, as a building full of burst pipes is not the ideal situation for you.

  26. MPHinPgh says:

    @mac-phisto: We all knew what you meant…

  27. BStu says:

    As others have noted, there is some confusion here. Is the boiler NOW being used the heat the whole building or did it previously heat the whole building. If it is currently doing so, then lease or not, the landlord shouldn’t be able to make you pay for it. Its his responsibility to set things up for seperate systems. If that’s not been done, you might be able to withhold the amount in those gas bills from your rent. Obviously, check your local tenant laws first to see what your rights and his obligations are.

    If its just inefficient, you should still pursue a complaint since this doesn’t sound like the system is in good working order. While landlords have a lot of power, tenants can work to enforce their rights. New York City is going to have plenty of resources for you, so do not hesitate to use them.

  28. parad0x360 says:

    Man that really sucks. In my apartment building every apartment has its own gas heater so you know you are only paying for yourself. It’s actually nice and from a visual inspection it looks no older then 2 years. When we moved in the stove, fridge and dishwasher were also replaced so all our appliances are new.

    If i was you I would call a lawyer and just get some advice and go on from there.

  29. Narockstar says:

    @tcp100: New York City has laws and guidelines that require landlords to provide heat and hot water to all tenants of multiple dwelling buildings. I think that there are a few loopholes, but for the most part, any landlord that doesn’t is a breaking the law. I lived in one of these apartments without heat, but I think the landlord got around it by having a separate water-heater in the apartment, in my bedroom.

  30. Orv says:

    @Drowner: You kind of have to be careful and know what the local rules are. When I lived in Ann Arbor, MI, the rental ordinances required a certain level of energy efficiency and insulation. There was an exception if the tenant was not paying for utilities. The upshot was, going for places with “utilities included” was a sure-fire way to find the draftiest, coldest, most poorly-maintained buildings in the area.

  31. jrobcet says:

    I know it’s not much help at this point, but it’s always a good idea to the call the utility company before renting a place. Most will provide high, low, and average costs for the previous year. Calling before renting can save you from being hung with unreasonable utility costs.

  32. LDC says:

    Did the Gas Company state the boiler does serve other units in the building ?

    Did you/and or roommate sign an agreement with the Gas Company ?

    Is the “landload” rebilling or is the bill from the gas company ?

    The account history should list the “exact” equipment being served and the customer of record and the serial # of the correct meter.

    The gas company can list the history of the meter and compare it to degree days (cold) to show normal usage. Ask for a consumption history of the account/meter to compare to your usage for the current period.

    Not sure of NY requirements but 5 years of data at a min should be available.

    You can request a meter test from the gas company in regards to a disputed invoice period. They will pull the meter and test it for correctness and if it is found faulty they will look at comparative unit and or meters to estimate a “corrective” usage and new invoice.

  33. FLConsumer says:

    If the boiler’s putting out heat, then I don’t think the landlord’s actually violating any laws / you really don’t have any recourse.

    I’ve only rented once in my life. Building was about 5-10 years old, all original builder-grade (read:crap) appliances & HVAC. My electric bills there were easily 3x what I spend on my own home now, and my own home is at least 2x larger.

    Be glad you’re in NYC. In Florida, the landlord has no obligation to provide heating/cooling of any type and is also allowed to submeter utilities and charge whatever they wish for them.

  34. KD17 says:

    Good god NY is expensive. I was pissed this year when I got a gas bill that was $60.00 in Jan. I’m in 750sq ft apartment in Mi.

  35. sean77 says:

    the heating works it’s just inefficient. You can’t sue because the heater uses more gas than newer models.

    MOVE.

  36. tokenblackgirl says:

    since you are providing heat for the building, that constitutes a share meeter, and according to key span, that landlord is esponsible for the heat until the issue sorts itself out. ( i know this because i’m a proerty manager)

    I would advise you to deduct to deduct the amount owed from your rent and pay the balance. Your landlord is most likely going to take you to court and thats actually a good thing. In court you can prove that you were paying to heat the whole building illegally, since NYC landlord and tenant court is notoriously pro tenants ( i know this again cause i was a landlord and tenant paralegal) the judge is most likely to side with you.

    for tihs situation, you really don’t need a lawyer, just no your way around tenant laws and keep your proofs.

  37. mac-phisto says:

    @FLConsumer: i think the OP does have recourse. subsection f of section 27-2032 (which i referenced above) states this:

    Notwithstanding any provision of prior law, it shall be the duty of the owner to keep each such heater in good repair and good operating condition, regardless of the identity of the person originally owning or installing the heater.

    it’s also possible that the particular gas heating unit does not comply under article 9 (gas appliances).

    as i stated before, i think it is in the interest of the OP to seek help thru the housing authorities. $1/sq ft/month to heat an apartment with gas is absolutely ludicrous, so one of two things are happening here: 1) the boiler is about to bust (it’s typical of gas boilers to chug hardcore right before they blow) or 2) the OP is heating common areas (which i believe is a violation of the law, but i can’t seem to find a specific provision regarding it).

    to be honest, OP should hope for #2 – that would put the landlord on the hook for the entire balance & s/he would be required to install a separate meter to monitor the apartment before charging for utilities again.

  38. Ron Seigel says:

    Dear Marcie

    That’s odd. My gas bill has been $0 since you moved in.

    Thanks.

    Your Neighbor

  39. scoosdad says:

    @Steaming Pile: A lot of the boilers in these buildings heat the hot water too. Are you saying that they’re going to need to take cold showers and boil water on the stove to wash dishes?

    About three months after purchasing and moving into my side of a two family duplex, I noticed that the neighbor’s motion sensor outdoor floodlights only worked when mine were turned on. Traced the wiring one day and discovered the feed to all their lights were also wired to my switch. Got that fixed that in a hurry.

  40. FLConsumer says:

    “good repair” is a very vague term. If it’s producing heat and isn’t spewing loads of CO into the room, you’re going to have a difficult argument there. “good repair” does not equal efficient.

    Now, if it’s heating other parts of the building, you’ve definitely got a valid complaint.

  41. overbysara says:

    @Juggernaut: what??? call dad? princess? what the hell man?

    she’s here seeking direction…!

    what an ass.

  42. mac-phisto says:

    @FLConsumer: understandable, but if they have info from the gas company showing that they are paying an exorbitant amount of money for gas, they might have a case. i would also work to get information on when the boiler was serviced (the law requires it to be serviced by the owner annually). if they could dig up some proof that it hasn’t been serviced in awhile, that would violate the “good repair/good condition” clause.

    there’s something else written into the law that requires a landlord to furnish two years of utility bills upon request before the lease is signed. i would recommend that anyone in the nyc area take advantage of that clause before signing a lease.

  43. snidelywhiplash says:

    @overbysara:

    I agree that Juggernaut’s tone was needlessly harsh, but at the same time, I too had a similar thought. I know NY has tenants’ rights laws and enforcement mechanisms, and I live in *Omaha, Nebraska*.