Taking a comfortable shower or bath should be easy, even if you happen to live in a multi-resident apartment building. New York law seeks to make that possible by requiring landlords to keep hot water at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
Cold water can be added to make the temperature more tolerable, but according to one gauge, a person might potentially be able to endure a straight shower at 120 without suffering serious burns, as long as it lasts no more than five minutes. Unfortunately, most apartment dwellers have no control over the hot water settings in their units. And even if you are able to get the settings just right, the flush of a toilet in another unit can cause the water to spike hot in a flash.
That could be deadly, as we were reminded earlier this month by the story of a nurse who pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted assault against a 23-month-old baby in her care. The woman admitted to dunking the child into scalding hot water, causing burns so severe that she died several days later.
News accounts of the case don't say how hot the water was, but based on the gauge referenced earlier it seems safe to assume that it had to have been well over 120 degrees. Exposure to 140-degree water can result in serious burning in less than five seconds.
It is worth noting that there is some mixed messaging in the public sphere about what constitutes a safe hot water temperature. That U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends setting all water heaters to 120 degrees, which is perhaps why the New York mandate sets that as the minimum. But some sources suggest it needs to be hotter to fight off Legionella, which can cause Legionnaires' disease.
So, it is possible for temperatures to be set higher. Alternatively, the system could be faulty because of a bad thermostat or improper system maintenance and inspection.
Whatever the cause might be, if excessive hot water temperatures in showers or dishwashers cause you injury, and your landlord is responsible for the management of the heating system, you have a right to seek to hold the landlord accountable.