If you reside in Zone A and were forced to leave your apartment during Hurricane Sandy, you are legally entitled to a break on your rent, you just have to be careful how you go about doing it. Attorney Steve Dobkin (who sired Gothamist publisher Jake Dobkin) spoke with us today about the law, and says in no uncertain terms, "You shouldn't pay rent for any period that you weren't permitted to live in your house or apartment." All you have to do is work out an arrangement with your landlord, ha ha!
Some landlords can be, shall we say, unreasonable. That's why there's Housing Court. But there's a big problem with Housing Court: landlords have something called a "housing court blacklist," which they use to turn away any would-be renters whose names appear on it. Dobkin, in fact, has fought to get the Housing Administration to stop providing this information to screening agencies, and he says that the Housing Court Administration has only made "cosmetic" changes in the face of legal action.
Screening agencies are still able to track down this information from the clerks' offices by sending employees with "basic computer skills," and the Housing Court administration still sells the information that enables screening agencies to compile their lists. The bottom line is that even if you are completely justified in taking your landlord to court, your name will probably still end up on this blacklist.
If you can't reach an agreement with your landlord about this, Dobkin says you may want to consider paying the rent and then suing in Small Claims Court. "The problem with withholding rent is that if the landlord starts a nonpayment proceeding, the tenant could end up on the housing court blacklist and it could prevent them from relocating in the future," he tells us.
And even if you weren't forced to leave your apartment, you could also get some money knocked off your rent if, say, you didn't have heat or hot water. "In New York and New Jersey, there is a warranty of habitability, in which the owner guarantees the apartment will be habitable," Dobkin explains. "And even if it's an act of God or nature such as a storm, the owner is responsible to the extent that a resident is entitled to a rent abatement if they are unable to use the apartment. No heat would often result in an abatement of 50 percent of the rent during the period when heat is required, but it's up to a judge to decide what impact it has on tenant's use of apartment."