By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire
This week I am providing a three-part series on the Implied Warranty of Habitability. Part I, posted on Monday, explained what the Implied Warranty of Habitability is and provided examples of actionable violations. Part II, posted on Wednesday, explained what someone can do if they are a victim of a violation of the Warranty. Part III will discuss the issue of damages associated with a violation of the Warranty and what you might reasonably expect to recover beyond the cost of any repairs.
For an explanation of what is the Implied Warranty of Habitability and a list of recognized examples of actionable deficiencies, please see Part I. Again, if you, a family member, or a friend are currently being subjected to any of these recognized violations of the Warranty or another defect that you believe rises to an equal level of disruption to your ability to live in the apartment, please call our office immediately. Do not delay.
Q: MY LANDLORD VIOLATED THE IMPLIED WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY, BUT I ALREADY MOVED OUT OF MY APARTMENT. CAN I DO ANYTHING ABOUT THE VIOLATION?
Yes. Most people have an aversion to confrontation. That aversion is heightened when you are dealing with the owner of your property. You may have fears that if you seek to enforce your rights under the Implied Warranty of Habitability your landlord will retaliate against you. You could get thrown out on the street or the landlord will make your life unbearable and complicated. As a result, a lot of people will either find a way to stomach through the defect or wait a long period of time until the landlord finally gets around to fixing the problem.
Nevertheless, your rights have still been violated. Even after the defect has been remedied, you are able to pursue an action for damages and may be entitled to several different types of damages. A list of potential damages follows below.
Q: WHAT CAN MY ATTORNEY SEEK ON MY BEHALF?
Excess Rent Paid. As I discussed in Part II, during the existence of the defect, you may withhold a percentage of the rent equal to the infringement on your ability to inhabit the premises. Well, even if the landlord remedies the defect, the landlord is not entitled to the amount of rent you could have withheld. As a result, even after the defect has been remedied, your attorney can seek a refund of the rent which was in excess of what you truly owed, given the presence of the defect.
Repair Costs. As I discussed in Part II, if you need to make repairs or alternative arrangements to manage the defect, you are entitled to reimbursement. An example of this may be if your heating system breaks in the winter and you are unable to heat portions of your home. If you are required to go and purchase space heaters, you may be entitled to recover the costs to purchase and operate the space heaters.
Other Costs. You may be entitled to other – what I call – inconvenience costs. For example, lets say the heat breaks in the entire house and cannot be repaired for two weeks. You are forced to move in your in-laws or into a hotel until the repairs are completed. You may be entitled to repair the cost of the hotel, irregular costs of gas during your commute to work, and other added costs to your family.
Emotional Distress. Success under this claim is extremely rare, but it is nevertheless available. If the landlord actions are disgusting and offensive enough, the court may award damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court punishes conduct that is both intentional and “extreme and outrageous.” At the very least, you will want to have your attorney explore the possibility of obtaining damages for emotional distress.
Q: CAN MY LANDLORD RETALIATE AGAINST ME?
No, your landlord cannot retaliate against you for exercising your rights. The landlord is contractually obligated to provide you with habitable premises. If you feel that your landlord is acting inappropriately or retaliating against you for forcing the landlord to uphold his/her contractual obligations, then contact an attorney immediately. A simple letter from an attorney reminding the landlord of the penalties for such conduct is often enough to resolve the matter and end the conflict.
Again, if you, a family member, or a friend are currently being subjected to any of these recognized violations of the Warranty or another defect that you believe rises to an equal level of disruption to your ability to live in the apartment, please call our office immediately. Do not delay.