Can I sue my landlord for Damages

I leased an empty restaurant space last year and invested over 150000.00 in
tenant improvements. This did not include the equipment but we refloored,
installed new ceiling tiles, installed partition walls, remodeled the restrooms etc.
In exchange, the landlord gave us 2 months free rent and promised to alleviate a
multitude of maintenance issues including reinstalling a window someone had
attempted to break in and the window was missing, installing a back door in lieu
of the makeshift plywood door, fixing holes within the building which was an
entry point for mice, emptying the grease interceptor as the previous tenants
had left it full, patching up leaking ceilings. While none of these were done, we
made the best of the situation we had already spent our portion of the
investment and reluctantly opened our doors for business. But, we are getting to
a point where costs of pest control, replacing broken inventor due to pests,
damaged reputation, leaky ceilings damaging our new floors and ceiling tiles are
causing significant stress to our budget. While our customers are happy, they
are quickly noticing a deterioration in our newly remodeled interior and we are
having a hard time paying for damage done by the landlords’ negligence and the
rent. We have sent multiple letters requesting the landlord address the issues
which have gone ignored. Can we withhold rent or sue my landlord for the
amount I invested so I can move my business elsewhere?

Asked on January 21, 2019 under Real Estate Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

You have three potential grounds to take legal action:
1) If your lease itself stated that any of this work had to be done by the landlord and he has violated the terms of the lease by not doing it, that would be breach of contract.
2) If the problems reduced the "habitability," or usefulness of the space for its intended purpose, then that was a violation of a legal obligation imposed on landlords called the "implied warranty of habitabilty"--the landlord's obligation to provide rental space useful for the reason or purpose it was rented.
3) If the landlord lied to you about what they would do to get you to sign the lease, that would be fraud.
Generally, you would either withhold rent to force the repairs to be made (and if/when the landlord tries to evict for nonpayment of rent, raise the breach of the implied warranty of habitability and/or the lease as a defense or justification  for withholding); or you would move out, claiming "constructive eviction" (being effectively forced out by the landlord's breaches) and then sue for compenation. There are pros and cons to both processes; you are strongly advised, given how much money is at stake, to consult with a landlord-tenant attorney before acting.

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