How can I get out of this terrible lease?

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How can I get out of this terrible lease?

Our landlord lives upstairs and has been getting continually worse. Here are some of the issues we’ve had: no power in half the house because it was wired wrong at the box, he had a drunk guy come fix it; often blasts music in the garage (shares a wall with our bedroom) until 4 am; has his chest freezer plugged into our circuit, insists it’s fair because he pays for the shared washer/dryer; sprayed ether in the garage with interior door open, garage door closed and the fumes made us sick; told us wrong meter was ours, so when he didn’t pay electric ours got cut off; his girlfriend came into our house without pants and peed outside our hall door and it took him 2 days a note to clean up the urine and panties.

Asked on June 30, 2015 under Real Estate Law, Maine

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

A landlord owes his tenants quiet enjoyment (the right to use and enjoy their leased premises free from undue disturbance, including by the landlord and his guests), which may be violated by the blasting music until 4am and the girlfriend not being house broken; and that the premises are habitable, or reasonably fit and appropriate for use as a residence, which may be violated by lack of power, sickening you with fumes.

For conditions that have already been fixed or which do not recur, you can't break the lease, but may be entitled to compensation (e.g. a rent abatement, or retroactive reduction, for the time you lived with the condition). But if there is ongoing habitability issues or disturbance of your right to peaceful enjoyment (like continued late night loud music) *after* you tell the landlord to please correct the problem, those breaches of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and/or habitability can justify you in treating the lease as terminated.

However, you must bear in mind that the landlord may not accept this, and if you move out, sue you for breach of the lease. You would raise the landlord's violations as a defense to the suit, which, if the judge agrees, would protect you; you could also countersue for compensation for the time you lived with the vioaltions and/or for excessive electric/utility bills if you can prove that his actions (e.g. the freezer) noticeably increased your bills--but you have to be comfortable with taking the risk of being sued if you are going to treat the lease as breached and move out.


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