Superstorm Sandy Utility Outages Do Not Abate N.J. Tenants' Rent Liability - Gardens at Maplewood v. Fowlin, ESX-LT-5240-13
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
"Tenants seeking a break in rent for building services interrupted by Hurricane Sandy got bad news on Monday, as an Essex County judge ruled the outages were 'unquestionably beyond the power of the landlord to have reasonably avoided or corrected.'
"'Restoration of power was within the control of the power supplier, rather than the landlord,' Superior Court Judge Mahlon Fast said, denying a rent abatement in Gardens at Maplewood v. Fowlin, ES[X] LT 5240-13.
"According to the opinion, tenant Ronald Fowlin withheld half his $1,495 rent for last November, citing his lack of lights, heat and hot water for two weeks.
"His landlord, owner of the Gardens at Maplewood apartment complex, filed for eviction based on nonpayment of $857.50, which included a late charge, attorney fees and court costs.
"Fowlin contended that the landlord was subject to an implied covenant of habitability and that he was entitled to an allowance for the apartment's uninhabitable condition.
"He cited Marini v. Ireland, 56 N.J. 130 (1970), which held that a tenant may receive an allowance for certain conditions found to be the landlord's fault or responsibility.
"But Fast said the conditions in Fowlin's case were not a result of a latent defect in the facilities or caused by the landlord's failure to make repairs.
"Fowlin also cited Chess v. Muhammad, 179 N.J. Super. 75 (1981), in which the Appellate Division said that 'even the most diligent landlord cannot prevent occasional interruptions in the livability of rented premises, whether due to the breakdown of mechanical facilities or sudden acts of nature.'
"Fast said Chess also noted that tenants' remedies are limited to cases in which the landlord failed to make repairs within a reasonable time.
"'I know of no case allowing relief to a tenant because of a loss attributable to an act beyond the reasonable control of a landlord,' Fast wrote, ordering Fowlin to remit the unpaid amount by April 15 or face a judgment for possession."
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