Q. I rent a top-floor apartment in a three-family home, and my landlord is going to replace the roof. He says I will have to vacate the apartment and take all of my belongings while the roof is being replaced.
What are my rights? Who pays for the cost of moving and storing my stuff and the much more expensive rent I'll probably have to pay while the roof is being fixed?
A. Your landlord does not have the right to force you to pack up and leave unless your lease allows it, explains real estate lawyer Steven Wagner of Wagner Berkow, so the first thing to do is to check your lease.
If your lease does not require you to temporarily vacate, then your landlord should cover your relocation costs.
"Discuss with the landlord exactly what is being done in your apartment and how long it will take," says Wagner. "You should get a written commitment that the landlord will pay your moving and housing expenses and restore you to the possession of the apartment when the work has been completed."
If the landlord won't agree, you can always play hardball and stay put. You wil be entitled to an abatement of rent under the Warranty of Habitability--a law which prevents landlords from substantially interfering with use and enjoyment of your apartment--if your landlord turns your apartment into a construction zone, says Wagner.
"If conditions become so bad that you have to vacate the apartment, you will have a claim for constructive eviction," says Wagner. "Damages for constructive eviction could include moving expenses, the difference between your rent and the fair market value of your apartment, possibly legal fees and if the landlord is fount to have ousted you, possibly treble damages."
Note that if you are renting on a verbal month-to-month basis instead of under a lease, your damages would be "extremely limited--a maximum of one month of loss or expense, which would be difficult to prove in a court of law," says real estate lawyer Dean M. Roberts. Therefore, if you like your apartment and your rent, you should "simply grin and bear the roof repair and make alternative housing arrangements, as normally it is only a few days of work."
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