Dear Sam: As a result from a leak from my fan coil unit last summer, I am having to have mold removed. The repairs will take a month, and I can't be in my apartment while they happen. However, my landlord refuses to pay for temporary housing, and only deducted half a month's rent. What's their obligation to pay for my relocation?
While your landlord isn't legally required to find you a new place, you shouldn't be paying rent to your landlord during the month you can't live in your apartment, and you may be able to get your landlord to cover the costs of your moving expenses, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
"There's nothing in the law that requires a landlord to relocate a tenant under these circumstances, but you're certainly not responsble for payment of rent while you're out of possession of the apartment," says Himmelstein. This is because your situation constitutes what's known as as "constructive eviction," which means you've been forced to leave your apartment (albeit temporarily) because it's become unlivable. "When there's a constructive eviction, it relieves the tenant of obligation to pay rent," Himmelstein adds.
In other words, your landlord's not-so-generous offer to reduce your rent by half during the repairs is bogus—you shouldn't be paying for that month at all.
And although it's not the landlord's job to find you a new place, says Himmelstein, they are legally obligated to reimburse you for additional expenses that directly result from your temporary relocation.
If you end up spending more in this month than you otherwise would have on your normal rent—say, on the cost of your temporary home, moving expenses, storage, etc.—depending on the amount of money, you could sue your landlord to reimburse you for the extra expenses.
"If you were to sue the landlord for what we call the 'consequential damages' resulting from not being able to live in your apartment, you'd be able to recover those expenses," says Himmelstein, though you'll want to assess if the amount of cash in question is worth potential legal fees. However, take note that if dispute is over $5,000 or less, you can sue your landlord in small claims court, where it's relatively simple to file a suit without the expensive help of a lawyer.
"I would recommend moving out, getting the work done, then suing for the money if the amount is significant enough," says Himmelstein. "In my opinion, you'd likely recover whatever damages were directly attributable to having to relocate."
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.