ATL Idol, Real Estate

Small-Building Law for Tall-Building Lawyers: Landlord-Tenant

avatar Alex ATL Idol.jpg[Ed. note: This post is by ALEX, one of the finalists in ATL Idol, the “reality blogging” competition that will determine ATL’s next editor. It is marked with Alex’s avatar (at right).]
Biglaw lawyers:
Every single one of your non-lawyer friends and family members think that you know “the law” because you’re lawyers. You don’t. You work in biglaw. Don’t worry, ATL will give you some small-building law to use when the inevitable email arrives or you need some lawyerly advice yourself.
Today’s topic: landlord-tenant law.
August is almost upon us. Lots of people are moving. Summers, law-school grads, Cadwalader attorneys. Maybe there’s still time to knock some dollars off of your last rent check. I spoke to an attorney who handles landlord-tenant issues in New York. He works in a really small building and likes to golf on Thursday afternoons.
Nutshell after the jump.

roaches New York City building.jpgNew York, like other states, has a statutory floor of habitability that apartments must meet or exceed. We’re talking the Warranty of Habitability, codified at Section 235-b of New York’s Real Property Law. It can’t be waived; it can’t be reasoned with.
Courts have determined that a whole slew of common complaints are covered by the Warranty, including problems with elevators, HVAC, hot water, odors, plumbing, and vermin.
Damages are measured by the difference between the rental value with and without the services at issue. According to case law, minor breaches of the Warranty, like an elevator that doesn’t work, might get you a rent abatement in the 5-20% range. Moderate and serious breaches (picturing lots of rats, here) will get you around 30% and 50%, respectively. My source was uncertain on the proper rent abatement for the presence of a loft of ill repute in your building.
Your landlord needs notice of the condition and an opportunity to cure, so make a paper trail. Take some pictures, too.
If your landlord can’t get it together, write a letter explaining that you’ll be withholding a justifiable sum of money from your next check and that you’re really disappointed in him. Mention some of that legal stuff above. Your landlord might sue you in some TTT court, but you’ve got a paper trail, the law, and a kick-ass diploma.
If your place is a real dump, you can break your lease. Constructive eviction is a defense to lease break. The standard is something like, “the landlord’s wrongful acts substantially and materially deprive the tenant of the beneficial use and enjoyment of the premises.” Again, you’ll want a paper trail.
Got a question for a small-building lawyer?
(Photo credit: Gothamist.)

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