NYS Appeals Court Reverses City’s Motion to Dismiss NYCHA Rent Abatement Case

January 24, 2020

Court also grants class certification motion for damages relief.

On January 21, Willkie and The Legal Aid Society secured an important appellate victory on behalf of hundreds of thousands of New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) residents deprived of heat and hot water. In a unanimous decision, the Appellate justices granted class certification and reinstated plaintiffs’ claim for breach of the warranty of habitability in Diamond v. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), a class action lawsuit brought in April 2018 demanding that the agency issue rent abatements to residents who went without heat and hot water during the 2017 to 2018 “heating season” and, in particular, during the winter cold spell that lasted from December 27, 2017 ¬– January 16, 2018.

The justices disagreed with the trial court’s holding that the other hundreds of thousands of NYCHA tenants harmed by NYCHA’s flouting of its legal obligations file individual cases in civil court. The Appellate justices held that a class action is the most efficient method to adjudicate the claims of individual class members who may lack the resources to bring individual actions. Read Willkie’s September 11, 2019 announcement.

At certain times during this timeframe, entire developments were without heat and/or hot water. In other cases, entire buildings or certain apartments within developments were without heat and/or hot water. During the last heat season - which stretched from October 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019, over 131,300 of NYCHA’s approximately 175,000 housing units and 291,537 public housing residents were plagued by unplanned heat and/or hot water outages.

Per New York City and State law, NYCHA is obligated as a landlord to establish and maintain certain housing standards. In particular, under the City’s Housing Maintenance Code (HMC), heat must be provided between October 1 and May 31 when temperatures fall below certain degrees. Moreover, the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law requires owners to provide both hot and cold water 24 hours a day.

The decision has received substantial press coverage, including:

Class Certified in Tenants' Heat and Hot Water Suit vs. City Housing Authority,” New York Law Journal

NYC Rent Abatement Dispute Can Proceed As Class Action,” Law360

State appeals court reinstates suit demanding rent rebates from NYCHA,” Politico NY

The Willkie team consists of partners Mary Eaton, Wesley Powell and Shaimaa Hussein (who argued the appeal), and associates Samuel Kalar and Casey Kelly.