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Q. My kitchen will become mostly unusable for a week or two while my landlord fixes a leak above the sink. There has not been any permanent damage to my personal property, but am I entitled to a discounted rent for the time I can't use my kitchen?
A. Possibly. There are at least two possible theories upon which you might be due a rent reduction for the period of time that the repair work is conducted.
The first is the Warranty of Habitability. This is a warranty that is implied in every NY residential lease that covenants that the rented premises is 1) fit for human habitation, 2) provides the essential functions of a residence, and 3) that the occupants will not be subjected to hazardous conditions.
Over time, case law has come to define what types of issues rise to the level of being a breach of the warranty. If the kitchen (or an essential part of it) becomes unusable for a period of time, it is very possibly a breach of the warranty. To be clear, “unusable” would be defined as the kitchen not functioning, a standard that would not be satisfied if it were simply messy, inconvenient, or more difficult to use.
If the standard is met, the question still remains what the rent reduction should be and how you would go about collecting it.
The reduction should be a percentage of the total monthly rent prorated for the period of the month affected. For example, if your rent is $4,000 per month, the kitchen is unusable for two weeks, and the percentage reduction is 10%, you would be due a $200 reduction in rent for the month.
If the landlord is unwilling to agree to your request for a reduction the only remedy would be file a claim in Housing Court (unless your apartment is rent regulated in which case you can file a claim with DHCR).
The second argument that you may be able to rely upon is breach of contract. Depending on the specific facts of your situation and the specific language in your contract, there may be terms in your lease which the landlord has breached
That being said, even if the landlord would be in breach of the agreement for failing to provide a working kitchen, the landlord can typically cure that breach by repairing the kitchen (which they are clearly doing).
It’s not unusual for leases to further state that in the event that a need for repairs results in a reduction of services your rights are limited to those available at law (i.e. the contract provides you with no further rights). In that case, you would be back to an argument that you should be protected by the Warranty of Habitability.
Mike Akerly is a New York City real estate attorney, landlord, and real estate broker. He is also the publisher of the Greenwich Village blog VillageConfidential.
Note: The information provided here is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and cannot substitute for the advice of a licensed professional applying their specialized knowledge to the particular circumstances of your case.