What are the tenant laws or rights to protect renters when there is no proper source of heat in the dead of winter?

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What are the tenant laws or rights to protect renters when there is no proper source of heat in the dead of winter?

We have been forced to heat our home with kerosene this winter when we should have the option for electric heat and gas heat in this home we are renting. The gas fireplace has never worked and they have never fixed it and now the electric heat has gone out as well. Our light bill has skyrocketed because we sometimes use space heaters for heat as well but using kerosene is not safe. I smell the kerosene all the time and being pregnant with that going on is not a healthy situation. It was 19 degrees last night and it was freezing in this house.

Asked on January 4, 2012 under Real Estate Law, North Carolina

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

To start, every residential lease includes what is known as an "implied warranty of habitability". Basically, this is a guarantee given to a tenant to live in a sanitary and safe (i.e. habitable) premises. Providing heat is included in this warranty.

If your landlord refuses to perform repairs necessary to make your rental habitable you can:    

  1. Withhold Rent - refuse to make any further rental payments until repairs are properly made.
  2. Repair and Deduct -  fix the problem and then charge your landlord for the cost of repair; or 
  3. Terminate the lease - end your tenancy and vacate the premises.

However, before you attempt to pursue any of these remedies, consult with an attorney that handles landlord-tenant cases or contact a tenant's rights organization. The fact is that if you fail to follow the proper procedures in attempting the above self-help measures, you could be held liable for breach of your lease. 

Note:  Depending on your income, you could also ask Legal Aid for assistance or the state/county bar association.  A  local law school clinic might also be of help to you.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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