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Legal Questions Answered By Griffin & Murphy, LLP

by Prince Of Petworth February 17, 2010 at 9:43 pm 8 Comments

Irving Street, NW
Photo from PoPville flickr user rockcreek

Ed. Note: We had a very similar Dear PoP yesterday so here is the official Griffin & Murphy response to a similar question. There will be a bonus legal question answered on Friday.

Griffin & Murphy, LLP, is a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. concentrating its practice in real estate law (including development, finance, leasing, zoning and condominium conversions), as well as estate planning and probate, civil litigation, and business law. The attorneys of Griffin & Murphy, LLP are licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Griffin and Murphy, LLP was founded in 1981.

Please send any legal questions relating to real estate, rentals, buildings, renovations or other legal items to princeofpetworth (at) gmail (dot) com, each week one question will be featured. You can find previous questions featured here.

Question:

My heat is currently broken (which is super awesome during the latest cold snap). My landlord is (as is typical) dragging her feet about getting it fixed. It’s about time to pay this month’s rent. I don’t want to pay until the heat is fixed. Do I have to?

Answer:

Every residential lease in the District of Columbia carries an implied warranty of habitability that requires the landlord to maintain the rental property in compliance with the District’s housing regulations. The District’s housing regulations mandate that landlords shall provide adequate heating facilities in their rental properties and shall maintain such facilities in good repair. A landlord must repair a broken heating unit within a reasonable amount of time after receiving notice of the problem, but only a short period of time (maybe one or two days) would be considered reasonable in the winter months. Continues after the jump.

If a landlord fails to restore heat to a rental property within a reasonable amount of time, the tenant should call the Mayor’s Call Center at 311 and ask to be connected to the on-duty housing inspector to request a housing inspection regarding the landlord’s failure to supply heat to the rental property. Also, the tenant may want to withhold the payment of rent until the landlord fixes the heating unit, although this would most likely be considered a breach of the lease if the agreement does not provide the tenant with a right of set-off or abatement. The landlord may file a lawsuit in landlord-tenant court to collect the rent owed and to evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent, in which case the tenant should request a jury trial and ask to pay future rent into the Registry of the Court until the case is resolved. A jury trial could take months before it is heard, and in the meantime, the landlord receives no rent and the tenant gets to stay in the premises. Usually, the landlord will settle the case and fix the problem because the landlord is receiving no rent and cannot lease the property to another tenant. If the case ultimately goes to trial and it is determined that the landlord violated the District’s housing regulations, the court could abate (in whole or in part) the rent owed by the tenant to account for the landlord’s breach of the implied warranty of habitability, although no one can predict the outcome of any court proceeding.

At this time of the year and with all the problems that the snow has caused everyone, including the District government, it may take some time for the housing inspector to come out to the rental property for an inspection. Still, this step should be taken just to protect the tenant and the landlord will be more likely to promptly repair the heating unit if he or she is aware that you have reported the violation to the proper authorities.

This response was prepared by Mark G. Griffin and Patrick D. Blake of Griffin & Murphy, LLP. The material contained in this response has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for a consultation with a qualified attorney. Nothing in this response should be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Griffin & Murphy, LLP or as rendering of legal advice for any specific matter.

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