WHEN REPAIR SHRINKS CLOSET SPACE New York Times Q&A, November 25, 2001
[Q] I live in a 40-year-old rent-stabilized building with 240 units. The closets in my apartment have accordion-type doors that reach from floor to ceiling and are nearly eight feet tall. Over the years, the doors and the mounting hardware have broken down and the doors are unrepairable. In other apartments, the owner has been replacing the original doors with louvered sliding doors that do not reach from floor to ceiling. (The top track is built down from the ceiling a foot or more, which results in the loss of important storage space in the closets.) I consider this unsatisfactory.
After I spoke with the building manager, he agreed to replace my existing doors with new floor-to-ceiling ones. After months of delay, however, I have received a letter stating that I must have the shorter doors installed. Is the landlord required to install replacement doors of equal size? . . . Bob Petit, Manhattan.
[A] "New York City tenants often find themselves in need of every square inch of space they can squeeze out of their apartments," said Jonathan H. Newman, a Manhattan landlord-tenant lawyer. "And when there has been a loss of a part of an apartment space, a tenant may be entitled to have his or her rent adjusted or prorated."
Generally speaking, Mr. Newman said, either the courts or the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the state agency that administers the rent laws, will determine whether a tenant is entitled to relief by examining both the landlord's reason for taking the space and whether the amount of space lost is significant.
"Another consideration would be whether the condition complained of by the tenant is de minimis in nature," he said. "That is, whether the new configuration of the closet and the accompanying loss of space significantly impair the tenant's use and enjoyment of the apartment."
Mr. Newman said that while the Rent Stabilization Code specifically addressed the loss of storage space provided as a buildingwide service - and characterized that loss as de minimis - it did not specifically address the loss of closet space inside an apartment. In one of the few reported cases on the issue, the state agency ruled that no rent reduction was warranted when linen closet space was cut to accommodate the installation of utility pipes.