If we have not had clean water for 6 or 7 out of the last 12 weeks, what are my rights?

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If we have not had clean water for 6 or 7 out of the last 12 weeks, what are my rights?

My landlord charges tenants for water every month and I recently discovered we have been using well water. First of all, how can they charge us for that? Then they posted a “boil water advisory” due to a broken pump for a week. The water was usable again for a week. Then the advisory was back on for another 2 weeks. Buying bottled water and the electric to boil water to wash dishes and let my daughter take a bath is getting expensive. We have been going to the YMCA to shower. Now, for the third time, the advisory is back on for 2 and a half weeks now. Do I have to pay rent?

Asked on August 17, 2011 Pennsylvania

Answers:

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

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

In a situation such as this you may be able to proceed under 2 different  legal theories. The first theory as a breach of the "warranty of habitability". This is a guarantee which is implied in every residential lease and provides that a tenant must be given a safe and sanitary premises in which to live. Based on the facts that you have presented, you could terminate your lease, as well as withhold rent until the repair is made, or make the repair yourself and the deduct the cost from your rent. A continual lack of clean water such as you describe would qualify as a breach.

The second theory that you could pursue is that of "constructive eviction". Since there is an unsanitary water condition that is causing you major health and/or safety concerns to the point that you have to leave the premises to shower, you may be able to break your lease and move out. At the very least you could have a legal claim for any costs you incur (such as a hotel; extra travel time to work; storing your belongings; etc.). You may also be able get a court order allowing you to move back in after the situation has been corrected.  Additionally, there is the potential for you to recover your attorney's fees if any.  You may also be entitled to other remedies, depending on your state law. From what you have described that the situation appears to be severe enough to warrant a claim of constructive eviction. 

Bottom line, you need to consult with an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant matters or to speak with a tenants right advocacy organization. If you attempt any self-help remedies you must be certain of your legal rights under applicable state law.  


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