NEW YORK—As the first of the month draws nearer, renters around New York City have begun thinking about cutting their monthly rent checks. After coping with the loss of electricity, heat, and water in many sections of the city however, many renters have begun asking if full rent is due.
The answer to this question is not so simple, but armed with protections in the rent lease, and good legal advice, renters do have options. Full credit for days without normal habitable conditions is not guaranteed, and tenants are generally advised to work out something with their landlords.
According to the warranty of habitability, a section included in every lease in New York City: “Tenants have the right to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. Examples of a breach of this warranty include the failure to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or the failure to rid an apartment of an insect infestation.”
Carolyn Fenley, a resident of a privately owned building in the Rockaways, was without electricity, heat, and water until a generator arrived on Nov. 10 to provide limited heat, hot water, and electricity.
With the power came a hand-delivered rent invoice, although there was no credit for the 13 days residents were without utilities.
According to Fenley, maintenance has been on site since the storm, however no one has provided any information as to what credit, if any, will be given.
“For them to then deliver the rent invoice on Tuesday without any credit for October, no credit for November, and it is like they walk away from the property,” Fenley said. “The property is completely debris-ridden and nothing is being done. It is a deplorable situation.”
Fenley said she sent a letter to Alma Realty on Nov. 8 inquiring about obtaining credit, but she has not received any response. The Epoch Times attempted to reach out to Alma Realty, but multiple phone calls and an email went unanswered.
Anything you can do to keep you out of court it is a victory. If you are in court, it’s someone’s loss.
—Jimmy Lathrop, Brooklyn Bar Association
Know Your Rights
Knowing how much credit is due could help alleviate some of Fenley’s frustrations.
“The requirement to pay rent in a less than completely functional apartment is on a sliding scale. It is not an on/off switch,” attorney Jimmy Lathrop of the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer’s Project said Thursday.
“Unless the parties can agree to an appropriate dollar adjustment of the rent while the apartment or building is being repaired, or while certain utilities are shut down, it is up to housing court,” Lathrop added.
If an apartment is unusable and the tenant leaves, a court will likely find the tenant entitled to full rent forgiveness for the days the tenant is absent.
If an apartment is mostly unusable, but the tenant stays away, a court will determine a reasonable percentage of adjustment for the period.
Reasonable Rent Adjustment
25 percent for lack of hot water
25 percent for lack of heat
50 percent for lack of electricity
10 percent for broken windows
10 percent for plaster damage from water penetration
Unsure of your situation? Contact the Brooklyn Bar Association legal clinic at 718-802-3890
Lathrop said once in housing court, adjustment percentages will vary case by case, but typically a 25 percent break is given for a lack of hot water, 25 percent for a lack of heat, and 50 percent for a lack of electricity.
The percentages can be used as a guideline for negotiating with landlords to avoid court, something Lathrop highly recommends.
“You never want to get in a situation, ever, where you have to go to court with your landlord. It is never good,” Lathrop said.
Fenley and other tenants in the building are exploring their legal options, but Fenley said she has not currently paid her rent, and will not until something is worked out.
Lathrop said while paying may seem like a raw deal now, it is the best option. Lathrop said nonpayment gives the landlord rights to sue and puts the tenant on the defensive, which could result in hits on their credit and/or being blacklisted from renting a new place.
“I will always strongly recommend if you don’t reach an agreement with your landlord, regarding the amount of the rent discount, the tenant should always pay the full contract rent. Always,” Lathrop said.
Lathrop said if you pay the rent and still cannot get a credit for days out of your apartment, a tenant can take the landlord to small claims court, putting the tenant in the driver’s seat.
Staying out of court, Lathrop said, is still the best option. “Anything you can do to keep you out of court it is a victory. If you are in court, it’s someone’s loss.”
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