Repairs not made in 2 months, pregnant tenant

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Repairs not made in 2 months, pregnant tenant

Hello, me and my husband rent an apartment
in a condo, since heating season we faced a
very loud banging in waterpipes which wont let
us sleep even with earplugs. A plumber opened
a hole in the ceiling, failed to fix anything and it
was left like this for already 2 weeks. Water is
dripping from the ceiling on the floor making it
slippery and pieces of ceiling falling
sometimes. We informed our landlord many
times although nothing was done so far. What
are our rights here? I am pregnant and very
concerned that lack of sleep may affect my
health.

Asked on December 5, 2018 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

All rentals come with the "implied covenant of habitability." This is an obligation, imposed by law, that the rental premises be safely habitable and also fit for their intended purpose. Conditions that affect health or safety--falling ceiling fragments; continuous leaks, which can foster mold and create slipping hazards; noise that prevents sleep--can violate this obligation. When the obligation is breached, it is treated like some other breach of the lease (whether written or oral) by the landlord, in that it justifies the withholding of rent (when a contract, such as a lease, is breached by party A, party B is the freed from its obligations--you don't have to do what you are supposed to, if you are not getting what you are supposed to get). Rent may be withhold until the repairs are made and to force the repairs to be made. 
The way it works is this: you withhold the rent because habitability is impaired. Important: keep the money available--don't spend it; you'll need it later. The landlord then presumably files an eviction case against you for nonpayment of rent. You go to court on the date indicated on the papers you'll get from court--you MUST go to court or risk eviction--and raise a habitability or, as it is also known in NJ, a "Marini" (named such after the leading case on the topic: Marini v. Ireland) defense, telling the court that you withheld the money deliberately due to the landlord's refusal or failure to correct a habitability issue. The court will make you deposit the withheld rent in court: this proves you deliberately withheld it (instead of, say, being unable to pay it) and also insures that the landlord will be paid later, when the repairs are made.
After that, the exact process varies county-by-county: each county's courts has its own way of doing things. But no matter the precise steps or procedures, at some point, if you and the landlord don't work things out voluntarily between you, there will be some court hearing or multiple hearings, at which time a judge will decide if the conditions are bad enough as to impair habitability; if they are, will order repairs be done; and then, when repairs are complete, will decide how much money goes to the landlord (usually most of it) and how much to you (some portion, to compensate you for living with the impaired conditions).


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