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Can you break the lease if your apartment is at risk of flooding?


Q: I live in a Park Slope Garden Apartment with permanent drainage issues. During hurricanes Henri and Ida, I threw water away from the door that leads to my room. I bought a raised drain guard and a sump pump that plugs into a garden hose, but the pump couldn’t keep up. Since I was at home, the damage was limited. But what if a big storm hits when I’m not home? The management company told me to deduct the cost of the pump from the rent. But shouldn’t the homeowner fix larger drainage issues?

A: Your landlord essentially treats you like an employee of the building by relying on you to keep the water out at all times. You can’t be expected to be rushing home after dinner, work, or vacation for every snowstorm or summer.

Maintaining the property – and that includes making sure the water is draining properly – is the owner’s responsibility, not yours.

“The landlord has an absolute obligation to keep water out, even if the climate changes,” said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan attorney who represents tenants. “You cannot ask a tenant to take on this responsibility.”


If your apartment had been flooded, you might have had reason to break the lease. Mr Himmelstein is advising tenants in flood-damaged apartments to break their lease and move out, even when landlords threaten to force them to live up to the terms of the contract.

But you are not in this situation. Instead, you are a sitting duck, waiting for another storm. Put your drainage problems in writing. Tell the landlord that you are concerned that your apartment may be flooded if the patio drainage is not resolved immediately, and ask the management company to make the necessary repairs. You could file HP proceedings in the housing court and a judge could compel the landlord to do the work. You could withhold rent, and if the landlord sues you for non-payment, a judge could grant you a reduction in rent.

Make enough noise and your landlord could do the job. But it could come at a cost – your landlord might not offer you a new lease because landlords aren’t required to renew tenant leases at market rates. Although an owner is not allowed to do so in retaliation, it would be difficult to prove the motive. Of course, if the drainage issues aren’t fixed, you might not want to stay in the apartment anyway.

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