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Can I withhold rent due to bad living conditions caused by other tenants? What is the best way to handle this?

Buffalo, NY |

I moved into the house I live in last July. I have been cursed at by the lower tenants and had my water tank turned all the way down for parking in the shared driveway. Now, we have rats. The landlord has set traps all around the house and sealed up the bottom of the house. His worker set traps in the basement althought he felt it was a waste of time because there was dog feces all over in the basement. (Landlord told me this) I informed him that the rats were living out of the lower tenants garbage cans and took several pictures of the bags ripped open. I also informed him that this is a code violation because in our area all cans are supposed to have lids. The only storage I have is the garage and my stuff was covered with food scraps from their cans and rat poop. What can I do?

Attorney Answers 2

  1. You could withhold rent due to another tenant's inappropriate conduct which has caused you diminished use and enjoyment of your rented space. This is especially, if the other tenant's conduct has caused a health or safety hazard. Before doing so, check your lease to see whether there is language prohibiting the withholding of rent - however, since you are a residential tenant, such language may not be enforceable, since it would be against public policy.

  2. Dear Can I withhold rent due to bad living conditions caused by other tenants? What is the best way to handle this?

    Perhaps I may help.

    New York State law guarantees that Residential tenancies must be safe for human habitation and a violation of that guarantee is a Breach of the Warranty of Habitability. In New York, the law for the implied Warranty of Habitability is located at NY Real Property Law, Section 235-b.

    "...Sec. 235-b. Warranty of habitability.

    1. In every written or oral lease or rental agreement for
    residential premises the landlord or lessor shall be deemed
    to covenant and warrant that the premises so leased or
    rented and all areas used in connection therewith in common
    with other tenants or residents are fit for human habitation
    and for the uses reasonably intended by the parties and that
    the occupants of such premises shall not be subjected to any
    conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous or
    detrimental to their life, health or safety. When any such
    condition has been caused by the misconduct of the tenant or
    lessee or persons under his direction or control, it shall
    not constitute a breach of such covenants and warranties.

    2. Any agreement by a lessee or tenant of a dwelling waiving or
    modifying his rights as set forth in this section shall be
    void as contrary to public policy.

    3. In determining the amount of damages sustained by a tenant
    as a result of a breach of the warranty set forth in the
    section, the court;

    (a) need not require any expert testimony; and

    (b) shall, to the extent the warranty is breached or cannot
    be cured by reason of a strike or other labor dispute
    which is not caused primarily by the individual
    landlord or lessor and such damages are attributable to
    such strike, exclude recovery to such extent, except to
    the extent of the net savings, if any, to the landlord
    or lessor by reason of such strike or labor dispute
    allocable to the tenant's premises, provided, however,
    that the landlord or lesser has made a good faith
    attempt, where practicable, to cure the breach..."

    If you are located within the jurisdiction of the Erie County Housing Court, you should consult with a clerk in the Court about the options to pursue to force your landlord's compliance with the codes and regulations for maintaining a habitable dwelling.

    Withholding your rent forces you into a lawsuit where you must defend your conduct and prove a lawful defense against the landlord's rent claim. An option available to rent withholding which does not jeopardize your possession of the apartment is seeking an Order to Correct if your Housing Court provides for such relief. You may also engage the local code compliance agencies, whether Health, Housing Maintenance or Buildings, to bring code compliance proceedings against the landlord.

    You may decide to consult a housing attorney in your jurisdiction.

    The answer provided to you is in the nature of general information. The general proposition being that you should try to avoid a bad outcome if you can.