What to do if I’m a tenant in a 3-family home and the furnance on my side broke down and has not been fixed?

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What to do if I’m a tenant in a 3-family home and the furnance on my side broke down and has not been fixed?

It has been over a week that we have been without heat. Our landlord, who lives on the other side of home that has heat, supplied us with an electric heater that we use in the bedroom at night. The rest of the house is freezing. Our furnace must be replaced but the and landlord says it cost $6000 to replace so he is looking for a cheaper option. Meanwhile, my fiancé and I are in the cold here. I’d like to know if this continues, am I liable to pay rent for next month? Are there options for other living quarters?

Asked on November 29, 2012 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Under the circumstances, you can claim a breach of the "warranty of habitability", which is a guarantee that is implied in every residential lease. Pursuant to this warranty, a tenant must be given a safe and sanitary premises to live in. Since you are not being given such a premises your landlord is in breach of the lease. As a result, you have several options: you can terminate your lease; make the repair yourself and the deduct the cost from the rent (not practical in your case); or (as you want to do) withhold rent until the repairs are made.

If you want to withhold you rent under you can. Yet, you can't simply stop paying however. That would leave you in breach without establishing your right to do so, which would open you up to monetary penalties. What you'll need to do is to go housing court (or the court where landlord-tenant matters are heard in your area) and start an action based upon the breach of the warranty of habitability. The court may require you to pay your rent into an escrow fund and then allow the landlord to take care of the problem or try to at least fix it. Additionally, you may be relocated for the time it takes them to do so at your landlord's expense.

At this point, you need to consult directly with an experienced attorney in your area who specializes in these cases. Additionally, you can contact a tenants' right advocacy orgnization. To reiterate, if you attempt any of the above legal remedies you must be certain of your rights under specific state law.


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