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No heat or hot water for extended period

Discussion in 'Other Residential Landlord & Tenant Issues' started by Eric Wullner, Feb 3, 2022.

  1. Eric Wullner

    Eric Wullner Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I have rented my home for over 5 years and the rent is current. I have not had a working furnace since April 15, 2021. We have had a brutal winter here in Iowa and even with a space heater my home's temperature ranges from 32 to 45 degrees. Out of necessity I'm essentially only using one room in my home or about 25% of the total square footage. My electric bill has doubled. I have stage 4 cancer and I do chemotherapy so being sick is NOT a good thing for me. My refrigerator is warmer than my home. I need to get a roommate to offset expenses but no one would rent a home with no heat.

    I did not have hot water for 8 months and I corrected that issue myself and deducted it from rent which the owner and the owner's attorney balked at. When I sought "allowances" for living in such conditions for such a long period, the owner's attorney said "allowances" were not "proper." In what world should a tenant have to pay full rent for being deprived of not one but two essential services for such long periods.

    My rent is $560.00. I proposed a 50% reduction from November until such time a furnace is not needed. That would include a deduction of $100.00 to cover electric bills which have doubled since I had to start using space heaters. I have documentation from my digital electric meter that when a working furnace was in place my electric bill was never over $100.00. In response, the owner's attorney suggested I vacate. The owner is in financial distress. If I vacated no one would rent this house. The house has many other code violations including vermin, cockroaches, no working smoke detectors, broken drains/faucets.

    From what I have read from a layperson's research, is that a tenant can make allowances for the deprivation of essential services. Are allowances legally allowed and what is a fair amount? I do know my home could be deemed uninhabitable.

    With anticipated thanks,
  2. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Iowa Legal Aid

    What if I can’t move or make the repairs myself?

    Some repairs are too big for a tenant to handle. For example, if the home has no heat in the winter because the heating system needs to be replaced, most tenants cannot afford to pay for such a repair. Some repair persons may not want to get involved with big repairs without the permission of the owner. The cost to fix some major problems would be more than one month’s rent. What can you do?

    One possibility is calling the rental housing inspector if there is one in your city. Many cities have a rental housing code and inspectors to enforce it. If there is a serious violation, the city inspector may order the landlord to fix it quickly. A landlord who does not fix it may be taken to court or fined by the city. If the city inspector finds very bad housing problems, the inspector may say the rental unit is unfit to live in. In those cases, the tenants may have to move out right away.

    If none of these will work for you, there may be other things you can try but you will probably need the help of a lawyer. It may be possible to force your landlord to make repairs by filing a lawsuit. If the judge decides the landlord has not lived up to the duty to provide essential services or to keep the apartment in a livable condition and the tenants are hurt by it, the judge may order the landlord to make the repairs.

    Under all these methods of repair, the landlord may not retaliate or try to get back at the tenant by raising the rent, trying to evict the tenant, or reducing services. If the landlord tries anything like that within one year of when the tenant made a complaint about repairs, the law assumes the landlord is trying to get back at the tenant. Then the landlord would have to show some other reason for taking the action. However, if a tenant has not paid the rent, the law doesn’t assume the landlord is retaliating if he or she tries to evict the tenant.

    EDIT: Read the info at the cite I posted above. It appears that the attorney is correct. While the landlord may offer some sort of adjustment to rent, he is under no obligation to do so. If the repair required exceeds one month's rent, then you can't repair and deduct. You can report this to your local building department, if available, but remember that a finding of inhabitability may mean that you would be required to move. Frankly, I suggest that you find a way to move for your own health and safety.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2022
    Red Kayak likes this.
  3. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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