By Robert Jachowicz
How does a minor maintenance issue turn into an expensive problem for a Landlord?
The first question is whether your maintenance issue rises to a breach of the warranty. The judge will consider inspection reports and board of health reports.
If it is determined that the condition breaches the warranty of habitability some significant issues have to be resolved. How will damages be measured? Traditionally the Judge will consider a percentage reduction in rent for the time the condition existed. The theory being the tenant should not pay the full rent for a “substandard” apartment. The Appeals Court says that both contract and tort measures of damages apply. So, for example if paint fumes may not much bother an average tenant, then a small reduction in rent would be an adequate damage award. What if you have a tenant with chemical sensitivities? The Appeals Court says that damages should be measured by the difference between the apartment’s warranted value and its value to the tenant with chemical sensitivities, resulting in a larger reduction in rent and possibly a complete abatement of rent. The reason is that in tort law the defendant must take the plaintiff as it finds him or her. It is an error of law not to take the tenants sensitivity into account when determining how much less the apartment is worth in measuring damages to that tenant.
Experienced counsel can minimize a Landlords exposure to these claims. Contact our law office if you’re a landlord and have questions regarding your legal matter.