Must We Follow City Heating Rules if the Apartments Are Too Hot?

The city rules requires apartments be kept at a minimum temperature during heat season. But what happens if residents agree they want it cooler?

Must We Follow City Heating Rules if the Apartments Are Too Hot?

Credit…Nadia Pillon

Must We Follow City Heating Rules if the Apartments Are Too Hot?

Q: After the city increased the nighttime minimum temperature for residential buildings to 62 degrees in 2017, the management of our East Village co-op reset the thermostat on the boiler. Now residents complain that apartments are overheated, and open their windows at night. The fuel costs in our small, low-income co-op are already $10,000 over budget. At the last shareholder meeting, residents unanimously agreed that apartments are too hot, but they rejected a proposal to set the thermostat to 55 degrees because they didn’t want to violate city law. Does the law prohibit shareholders from voting to set the heat at a temperature that is mutually agreeable, if it is below the legal limit?

A: In 2017, new heating rules took effect for the heating season, which runs from Oct. 1 through May 31. During the day, indoor temperatures must be 68 degrees if the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., indoor temperatures must now be 62 degrees (up from 55 degrees), regardless of the outdoor temperature.

The minimum temperature refers to the temperature inside an apartment, not the thermostat setting on the boiler. So if thermometers inside apartments register an indoor temperature higher than 62 degrees, then management could lower the thermostat on the boiler until the preferred temperature is achieved. (Older buildings can get notoriously overheated.)

But what happens if the building manages to get the apartment temperatures down to 62 degrees, but residents still agree that they’re hot and unhappy? Could the building flout the law and turn the dial down further? Dean Roberts, a Manhattan real estate lawyer who specializes in low-income co-ops, argues that they can.

“I have a fundamental belief in the ‘home rule’ process,” he said. “If there’s a unanimous agreement by the shareholders, then they can do this. No harm. No foul.”

Mr. Roberts suggests the building hold another shareholder meeting to get a consensus. If shareholders unanimously agree to a cooler temperature, the building can lower the thermostat. At the meeting, the board should explain that if anyone wakes up in the middle of the night feeling cold, they should contact the board and management rather than file a complaint to 311. Even if those residents agreed to the change in rules, management will need to make adjustments to the temperature on their behalf to comply with the law.

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