The Work in My Constructing Is Limitless and Invasive. Can I Withhold Lease?

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The Work in My Building Is Endless and Invasive. Can I Withhold Rent?

Q: We live in a wraparound rooftop penthouse apartment in a tall skyscraper in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Two weeks ago a maintenance team arrived unannounced to erect a huge portal on the terrace for access to the windows underneath need to be repaired. We were told the work would take a few days, but it is far from complete. Since the crews need access to our apartment to get out on the terrace, they come and go 24/7, sometimes they arrive before we get up and wander all day. While they are working we have no privacy unless we lower all the blinds and sit in the dark. The workers don't always wear masks and resist my questions about their vaccination status. Can we set any limits?

ONE: The landlord is entitled to reasonable access to a tenant's apartment with appropriate advance notice in order to carry out necessary maintenance work. Working on facades or windows would certainly fall into that category, according to Jennifer Rozen, executive attorney for Rozen Law Group in Manhattan.

"The Housing Maintenance Act gives landlords a lot of leeway to get access to apartments," said Ms. Rozen.

But there are limits. Your apartment cannot be turned into a permanent living room and you certainly have the right to rest before you get up in the morning. You also have the right to set limits on masking during a pandemic, especially with regard to the Omicron variant.

“You can definitely set some parameters,” said Ms. Rozen. "You can't go in and out to the point where you are essentially constructively evicted."

You are likely to be eligible for a rent discount for the weeks that you experience inconvenience. Write a letter to the landlord or hire a lawyer to write one on your behalf. In the letter, outline your demands: You want workers to stick to a schedule that works for you and your family; You want them to follow Covid's safety precautions; and you want a rent reduction for the inconvenience.

Tell the landlord that you are holding on to the rent until a suitable settlement can be reached that is sure to get noticed. Remind them that you are motivated to do this job too, as you will want to be back on the patio as soon as possible.

You are currently in a strong position with the eviction moratorium in place until January 15th. Even if the evictions resume, the backlog of cases will be enormous and you will be at the end of that line. "People are now safer than ever when it comes to withholding their rent or denying access," said Ms. Rozen.

With this assurance you can assert yourself until your conditions are met.

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