Heat season arrives in NYC: Here’s what you can do if you lose heating or hot water

Freezing man adjusting thermostat
Heat season in New York City runs from Oct. 1-May 1

The arrival of October also marks the start of “heat season” in New York City — meaning that every residential building must maintain comfortable indoor temperatures whenever the mercury outside falls below 55 degrees.

To mark the start of heat season, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) outlined on Thursday how it responded to heat complaints in the previous winter, and what it plans to do to keep New Yorkers warm through fall and winter.

During heat season, by law, all New York City residential buildings must maintain indoor temperatures of 68 degrees during the day whenever outdoor temperatures fall below 55 degrees. Overnights, indoor temperatures cannot fall below 62 degrees regardless of the outside weather.

That means that all building owners must provide adequate heat and hot water services. Unfortunately, in past winters, not every landlord has fulfilled that obligation to their tenants — which is when the HPD steps in.

Upon receiving heat/hot water complaints, HPD will dispatch housing inspectors to residential buildings and, if necessary, send in crews to make emergency repairs and restore service.

Between 2018 and 2019, the enforcement team made 1.4 million inspections citywide, issuing 1.1 million violations for both heat/hot water issues and other problems in buildings, including lead paint conditions and rodent infestation.

During the 2019-20 heat season, HPD inspectors conducted more than 100,000 inspections across the five boroughs, according to the agency. And they kept working even as the COVID-19 pandemic set in during March and April, according to HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll.

“HPD housing inspectors and emergency repair staff are among the unsung heroes of this crisis, carrying out inspections and emergency repairs for the most serious conditions in the height of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Carroll said. “We will continue to rely on their dedication this coming winter as they work to ensure heat and hot water is provided by law.”

Reporting violations

All residential property owners in New York are required by law to provide heat and hot water to their tenants. If you lose your heating service or hot water and your landlord refuses to respond, then it’s time to call the city for assistance.

Make an official complaint through the 311 hotline or online at the 311 website, portal.311.nyc.gov, or use the 311Mobile app. Be sure to get the complaint number. You can track and monitor the result of the complaint on the HPD’s website, nyc.gov/hpd.

While HPD promises to respond to heat and hot water complaints as quickly as possible, chances are you won’t get a response right away. The average response time from complaint to inspection was 2.1 days between the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, which actually was an improvement by a full day.

Until the HPD responds and/or heating or hot water service is restored, the HPD advises not to use any other “auxiliary heating” methods such as space heaters, ovens or candles — all of which are prone to causing fires or carbon monoxide poisoning if left unattended for any length of time.

If the landlord continues to avoid providing heat and/or hot water, the HPD will intervene with its Emergency Repair Program or Housing Litigation Division to have the services restored.

Landlords who fail to provide heat or hot water services are subject to HPD fines of between $250 and $500 per day for the initial violation, and up to $1,000 per day for every subsequent violation.

Heating safety tips

If you’re feeling cold on a particularly frosty day at home, and the heat or hot water is out, wear warm layers of clothing and drink plenty of fluid to avoid indoor hypothermia. Infants should also wear layers and sleep alone in a crib or bassinet; never cover them with blankets above their chests.

Electric space heaters may be used, but proceed with caution. The Health Department advises plugging the space heater directly into a wall outlet and placed away from flammable items. Never hang any clothing or linens of any kind close to the heater.

Space heaters fueled by kerosene or propane are illegal in New York City, and must not be used under any circumstances.

Malfunctioning heating systems, in some instances, may cause fires or the emission of carbon monoxide — a colorless, odorless and lethal gas. Make sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home, with fresh batteries installed, and placed in areas where you can hear them, day or night.

Financial aid available

If you’re a homeowner and you can’t afford your heat or hot water, there is help available.

The federal government provides annual Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) to qualified, low-income property owners who are having financial difficulties in maintaining the utilities. You may also qualify for funding to make repairs to heating equipment.

Call 800-692-0557 or visit the city’s Human Resources Administration website, nyc.gov/hra, for further information.

Sources: NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.