Renters’ rights when it comes to property damage
by: Mary Chao
That’s what Joel Kunkler, director of landlord tenant services at The Housing Council, said of tenants’ claims when it comes to the windstorm of 2017.
“It’s not the easiest situation,” he said.
Under New York state law, landlords have to abide by a warranty of habitability, which is the expectation that the property will be in livable condition, Kunkler said. That means if a furnace breaks or a roof is leaking, the landlord has an obligation to fix it in a timely manner.
But if it is a power outage and it is up to the utility company to repair, the situation can be nebulous, he said.
“If it’s a brief interruption in service, everyone needs to hunker down and deal with it,” Kunkler said.
When you have extensive damage such as the windstorm, everyone is doing the best they can to get things back in order, said Rochester real estate attorney John Nacca, who is also a landlord. He is busy tending to properties without power to make sure the pipes do not freeze.
Landlords are charged with the legal obligation of doing everything they can to make a home livable. If a tree hit a roof, the landlord has to repair it as soon as possible. If a landlord has empty properties, the tenants may be offered the substitutions, Nacca said.
Tenants also have the right to break the lease if the home is not habitable, Kunkler said. If the property cannot be repaired in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant has the right to be released from the contract.
Lisa Schwingle, who has been renting a home in the village of Pittsford, realizes that the windstorm was an act of God. A tree fell on the roof of her rental home on Wednesday and her landlord quickly came over the next day to temporarily repair the roof before the weather changed.
“Landlord has been great and has been dealing with a lot of damage,” Schwingle said.
Tenants have the ability to buy insurance just as homeowners do, said Ron Papa, president of National Fire Adjustment, which represents policyholders. If the tenant has renters’ insurance, check to see what is covered, he suggested. Some policies may pay for incidentals such as hotels and meals out during catastrophic events, he said.