I have an ongoing issue with my landlord failing to make repairs, supply consistent heat, and separate the gas & electric meter for my apartment and their responsibilities. I would like reparation for the time without heat and the stress, and in some case expense, that ensued. I have also paid the electricity for more than my share in the building and would like reparation for that as well.
Dear Is there any point in a disagreement with a landlord that I can legally withhold rent due to lack of services?
Perhaps I might help. There is no tipping point for rent withholding. That is decision made by the tenant and tenant's attorney as to a strategy to compel the landlord to make repairs and to seek a recovery of prior paid rent as well as an "abatement" against the landlord's current claim for rent.
Rent withholding is a means to an expected end. Your decision to stop paying rent will force the landlord to 1) take your complaints seriously and work out an agreement with you without going to court, or 2) go to his attorney to initiate the process for bringing you to court in the landlord's eviction case for nonpayment of rent.
You may choose another route to gaining a court order compelling repairs. You start your action by making certain that the repairs needed and not made are violations of the New York City Housing Maintenance Code. You obtain that determination by an inspection of your apartment by an inspector from the Code Enforcement Office of the Housing Preservation Development Administration (HPD). You have two good methods for gaining an inspection. The first is by a telephone call made by you and the second is within the context of a lawsuit you start in Housing Court against your landlord for repairs.
If you have not done so, telephone 311 New York City's central help line. You will be making a complaint about the conditions of disrepair in your apartment and the building. A city inspector should record violations of the Housing Maintenance Code. You may initiate your own court case for repairs in the Housing Court. The lawsuit is known as an HP proceeding.
At the Housing Court's web site read about the How To's of the HP proceeding:
You may also consult with an attorney at the courthouse about other options.
When you withhold rent you chance that you will need a skilled advocate to prosecute your defenses to the landlord's claim for unpaid rent [traditionally a defense grounded in a breach of the warranty of habitability, where you look to "abate" a portion or all of the landlord's current rent claim,] and prosecute your counterclaim for monetary damages also grounded in a breach of the warranty of habitability, but in the counterclaim you seek a money judgment against the landlord to recover as damages some or all of the rent you did pay to the landlord while you were deprived of a home without a need of repairs. You may also counterclaim for your out of pocket expenses that you necessarily incurred to "mitigate" the damages inflicted upon you by the landlord's breach of the warranty of habitability.
You can read about defending a nonpayment proceeding in the New York City Housing Court at:
Housing Court may be a difficult forum to address your issue of monetary damages caused by overpaying your gas and electric account. You likely will need an expert witness, such as a licensed electrician to establish the basic facts that your meters are connected to other portions of the building and you may need Con Ed to inspect the utility meters for verification of tampering by the landlord.
Your lawyer would need to argue that your counterclaim for damages for an excess utility charge caused by the landlord living off your account, is in the nature of a set off and is inextricably intertwined with the landlord's underlying claim for nonpayment of rent.
New York Housing Court will sever any counterclaim for personal injury such as stress.
I'd like to add that if you are paying a separate gas and electric bill ( apart from your rent) you should call your electric company ( if you haven't done so already) and ask them how many electric units are allotted to your building. They will be able to give you this information. There should be a seperate meter for each unit in your building. Also let the company know that you believe the landlord is overcharging you with his expenses. Ask them to tell you what the average readings are for other units or simply in your area. They tend to work with you on these matters and be understanding and quite helpful. Then, set up a appointment for them to come and do a reading for you. You have a right to request this on demand. They will set up the appointment and you should send your landlord a letter indicating that you have set up an appointment for your gas and electric company to do a reading of your meter. Keep a copy of this letter for your records. Be sure to state in the letter that your landlord is required by law to provide access to the electric company. Sometimes meters just need to be recalibrated - you can say that as well. It is usually better if this letter comes from an attorney and I have had much success helping tenants by doing this but you can certainly write it yourself. In my experience, shady landlords will usually adjust the meters so that they are accurate before the meter reader comes. If the electric company can gain access to get an actual reading, then you may get some credit by the electric company. Hope this is helpful and let me know if you have questions.
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