In the wake of flooding destruction in apartments from Hurricane Sandy, do New York City renters have a legal foothold to break their lease and move, or even to forgo rent payments until unit repairs are made?
According to the New York Times, every case is different, but Stuart Saft, a real estate lawyer with Holland & Knight, and Steven Wagner of Wagner Davis P.C., say that if an apartment is going to be uninhabitable for a long time, a tenant should be able to break the lease and even get back their security deposit.
If the lease specifies that a landlord is allowed a 30-day window to make repairs, the two experts say that most landlords would still unlikely go after tenants who decide to move out sooner.
“[A landlord] would rather fix the place up and re-rent it,” Richard Siegler, a real estate lawyer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan told the Times, citing the current strength of the housing market.
But what if the tenant decides to keep their lease while repairs are being made – are they still required to pay full rent?
A landlord can ask tenants to pay, says the Times, but if tenants are unable to live in their homes, they can refuse. If the home is uninhabitable, experts say a judge probably would not order tenants to pay the full amount of back rent, but depending on the level of damage, some portion of the rent may be expected.
In public housing, many of the New York City Housing Authority’s 400,000 residents were affected by the storm, and according to the Times, NYCHA will decide on a case by case basis what rents to charge tenants.
Earlier this week, it was reported that New York City residents were displaced due to the Hurricane Sandy, most of them living in public housing.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday called finding housing for displaced people “a challenge,” citing the city’s lack of available housing stock.