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When can a tenant legally not pay their full rent?

Many tenants in New York feel like they are in a difficult position with their landlords when things go wrong. They do not necessarily know what their rights are or how to enforce them. They feel that they need to continue paying their rent no matter what happens just to ensure that they have a place to live. While for the most part this is true, there are certain legal obligations that landlords must provide to their tenants and, if they do not, the tenant may be able to legally withhold all or a portion of their rent.

There is a warranty of habitability in every lease. This means that the landlord must provide certain utilities, such as heat and hot water, and they must keep the building safe and provide other necessities to make an apartment livable. They are also required to make repairs when things break down in apartments. However, landlords do not always do this, which can lead to landlord/tenant disputes.

Tenants do have a way to try to force the landlord to make the repairs or pay for the utilities to ensure that they stay on. Tenants can withhold all or a portion of their rent until the repairs are made. This is also a defense if the landlord brings the tenant to court for non-payment of rent.

In order to be successful, the tenant must first prove that the landlord had actual or constructive knowledge of the issue and did not fix it in a timely manner. Actual knowledge means that the tenant either notified the landlord or an employee of the problem through a phone call or by written means, or a government agency put violations on the building. Constructive knowledge means that the problem is so obvious that the landlord or the employees should have known about the problem.

There are many landlords in New York who do not provide what they are legally obligated to provide to their tenants. The tenant may be entitled to a reduction of their rent as a result. However, these can be very fact specific cases and it is important that the tenant has all the evidence they will need to be successful.

Source: www.nycourts.gov, "Landlord/Tenant Answer in Person Factsheet," Oct. 24, 2017

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