Do I owe back rent in my rental had problems?

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Do I owe back rent in my rental had problems?

We were approved on 08/15 and signed the lease on 08/22. On 08/19 all things that the apartment needed to be done to the apartment was sent to management by my realtor so we could move in on 08/31, which was agreed upon with management. However, nothing was done to the apartment as far as the repairs – no stove or refrigerator was in the apartment, also no hot water in the bathroom sink, along with a long list of other issues to the apartment. I voiced to management a multitude of times, via phone call to their office, that we needed to have these issues handled because the lease agreement stated that we when would have the apartment to our liking we would provide the 1st months rent afterwards. Since the apartment was not satisfactory at move in, we didn’t give the 1st month rent until 09/24, when our realtor was force to retrieve it very reluctantly from us. Fast forwarding, now after still a multitude of calls to management which I stated to their office,

Asked on December 31, 2016 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

All rental units must be habitable--that is required by the implied warranty of habitability, which is a legal doctrine. While many problems (e.g. dirty carpets or old paint) do NOT affect habitability, others--like a lack of a stove or refrigerator, or a lack of hot water--do, and can justify withholding rent until they are corrected and, even after they are, can justify a rent credit or "abatement" during the time you had the habitabitability issues: e.g. if the unit is not fully habitable or its habitability is impaired, that may mean you might only pay 90% - 50%, say, of the rent for that period of impairment, depending on exactly how severe the problems are.
If there is a judgement of possession against you from having missed a court date, then when a warrant of removal is posted on your door, go to the county courthouse, to the landlord-tenant office, and apply  for an Order to Show Cause. When you do, allege 1) you never received notice of the original hearing date; and also 2) that the rent was withheld due to habitability issues and you request a "Marini" hearing (that's the name of the main case on the subject) as to the proper amount of rent given the habitability issues. List the habitability  issues in detail. The court should set you up to have a hearing date at which time you can present to a judge the lack of notice and the habitability issues. To that hearing date, bring all the documentation, any photos, and any witnesses you'll need. The court will also give you advice as to what else to do (e.g. notifying the landlord or their attorney). If you can show the issues to the court's satisfaction, they should find some reduced (but non-zero; if you were in fact living there, or able to live there, you got some value from the unit and so have to pay  some rent) amount of rent you will owe for the period you did not pay; if you then pay the amount the court finds, the eviction complaint should be dismissed. Good luck.


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