Am I allowed to ask a leasing company for reimbursement regarding utilities if they are the reason we have to pay them?

A few days ago, the heater in our house stopped working. It’s a very old house, and it only heats with radiators, and when I got home from work at 11:30 pm, our thermostat was at 50 degrees and wouldn’t move up. We live in MN and it’s been in the mid-20s since the heater’s been broken and it’s supposed to be as low as 5 degrees overnight tonight. Our rental company has been very responsive but the only way they’ve helped at all is by bringing in a bunch of heavy duty space heaters. This has somewhat helped in the smaller rooms in our house, but none of them have been powerful enough to heat the main rooms at all. Not only that, but the heaters are a huge energy suck and will likely cause a huge spike in our electricity bill, which we as the tenants must pay. The company hasn’t given us any sort of timeline for when to expect our heat to be working again, even after we asked, and it’s been incredibly cold in our house. We don’t want to bring up the issue with the city/authorities unless it’s absolutely necessary. However, I mostly just wanted to know if this does result in a higher utilities bill for the month, do we as tenants have the right to ask for reimbursement on any of that money? My roommates and I are really just looking for some compensation for this period of time when our

house has been inhumanely cold. Let me know if there is any way to get something out of our leasing company for this at all.

Asked on April 3, 2018 under Real Estate Law, Minnesota

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

If the landlord fails to provide reasonably habitable premises--such as no heat when its 20 degrees out--the landlord is responsible for the costs tenants thereby incur, such as the cost of heaters, of electricity or fuel for heaters, or even reasonable motel charges, if the tenants had to move out for a time.
The problem is, there is no really good way to vindicate your right to compensation: you can sue the landlord for the money; or you can withhold part of your rent, but the landlord will likely then bring an eviction proceeding against you and you'll have to defend against it in court (and prove to the judge that your withholding was justified by the facts). In short, if the landlord does not voluntarily compensate you, in one way or another, you will end up in court if you want to see reimbursement.


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