Day 8 with no electricity: Renter's rights?

On 12/11, New Hampshire suffered the worst ice storm in 30 years, resulting in power outages which affected 300,000 homes. Since then, most have had service restored, but there are still nearly 40,000 homes without electricity after seven days. Including me. We have been staying with family in MA, but that is getting old, and haven’t worked in over a week. When you are self-employed, that sucks.

Here is my question: We rent a duplex which has been uninhabitable for 8 days. No electricity, no heat, no water (well won’t work). Are we obligated to pay rent for an uninhabitable property?

Suggest you consult with a lawyer as IANAL! May depend on the conditions of the rental contract or lease if in writing. If verbal take your lumps and kwiturbichin.

IANAL, but usually there is an “act of God” or “Force Majeure” clause in contracts that removes liability in extraordinary circumstances. It sounds like this “event” would qualify. Check your rental agreement.

From wikipedia…

Force Majeure (French for “superior force”) is a common clause in contracts which essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or act of God (e.g., flooding, earthquake, volcano), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract. However, force majeure is not intended to excuse negligence or other malfeasance of a party, as where non-performance is caused by the usual and natural consequences of external forces (e.g., predicted rain stops an outdoor event), or where the intervening circumstances are specifically contemplated.

I am not a lawyer.

It seems to me that your beef is with the utility companies, and not your landlord. He didn’t cause the power to fail, right?

(If you have a lease/renters agreement, it might have a provision in there.)

If you had to evacuate due to events such as these, you might be able to make a claim for any hotel rooms, spoiled food, increased mileage, etc, on your renters insurance (or the landlords property insurance). But you’ll need receipts…

Did I mention that I am not a lawyer?

I think you are stuck, since the problem did not arise with the Landlord, nor is there much he can do about it. He’ll still have to pay the mortgage, you know. ianal

But that is the risk he assumes when he contracts to provide me with a habitable residence. That is one of the benefits of renting; I am paying someone else to assume those risks and responsibilites. If they are unwilling or unable to assume those risks, then they should not be renting out property.

I doubt you’d have much of a case. The landlord has no control over the power company and I can’t see how he can be considered liable for their failure.

The landlord can’t be responsible for things he has no control over and has no ability to ameliorate.

That the landlord did not cause the power outage is irrelevant. If tree falls on my house rendering it uninhabitable, am I obligated to continue paying rent?

If you didn’t pay your bill, and you had no power, would that be cause for relief of rental payments to the landlord? It would be similarly uninhabitable.

This is similar. It’s not the fault of the landlord, and he should still be able to collect his rent, or you can vacate, and he can rent it out to someone else. He is responsible for upkeep of utilities in the property, but not payment, or delivery to the outside access point on the property.

If he chopped the power line with an axe, you may have a claim here, but Mother Nature doesn’t answer to anyone.

My lease includes water from a shared well with an electric pump. I do not pay for the electricity for the well. If the property is uninhabitable because there is no water (which the landlord agreed to supply), then I see no reason he is entitled to rent for the period he was unable to supply me with water, as agreed to in the lease.


But. You live in New Hampshire, Which is bloody cold. A reasonable person might consider electricity necessary for life if you do not have access to other options to heat your home, or provide yourself with water. You might have somewhat of a case for negligence if you can demonstrate that both

A: You have made the landlord aware of the problem, and he has done nothing
B: You have, yourself, done everything you can as well.

Frankly, you’d be better off filing a suit on the utility company.

The landlord can fix that. He cannot fix the power lines.

It’s not that he did or did not cause the problem (things happen). It’s that he was able to fix it. With a tree, he can. With the power, he can’t.

Look, you can keep bringing up nitpicks all you want, but the fact remains that you have no case.

Does it matter if the renter contracts utilities on his own instead of the landlord doing it and including it in the rent? If the renter isn’t actually the customer of the power company would he even have standing to sue?

Failing to pay your bill isn’t the same sort of thing, since it’s something that the renter caused. And, besides, the habitability of the residence hasn’t changed. There’s still electricity that can be turned on by simply paying whatever back charges exist.

I’m not sure why you think that the landlord has to cause the problem for a rent reduction to be valid.

If my water heater breaks, even through no fault of the landlord, he has to replace it, and if it takes a few days to be replaced, I can reasonably expect to get a rent reduction during that time. If I choose to, say, turn off the gas, he does not have to provide me with free hot water in another fashion.

I’ve no idea, but I imagine that WOULD constitute negligence on the part of the landlord should he fail to pro-rte the rent, pay for a hotel or whatever.

again IANAL

Why didn’t you go out and rent or buy a portable generator? That’s what I would have done.

I can’t see how the utility company is going to be held liable either. They’ve had all their employees, plus reinforcements from other states and provinces, all working huge amounts of overtime since the storm. They’re doing everything they could reasonably be expected to do. Unless there is some specific screwup in this the particulars of this case, you just have to deal with the lack of power. Being at the bottom of the power company’s priority list for whatever reason is just a tough break.

No, the Landlord does not have to cause it, but the Landlord has to have control over it. In this case, there is nothing the Landlord can do, it’s beyond his control, everyone else is in the same boat.

Unfortunately, this would not help out a renter very much, as they can’t use the generator to run the well pump or a furnace that requires power to start up, no matter what fuel it runs on.

There are options that would be more useful for renters, such as kerosene heaters, flashlight batteries, bottled water, and a good book. The building is not uninhabitable, and loss of easily accessible power is not the end of the world.

This is not the landlord’s fault, and the state is not going to pro-rate the landlord’s taxes, nor is the power company going to pro-rate the fees for having the power hooked up to the building.

Two reasons:

  1. I have no idea where the power to the well is. Kind of hard to just plug it into a generator.

  2. The furnace is wired directly into the house (no plug). Is it 110 or 220? Should I just tear into the wiring and see if I get lucky and the house doesn’t burn down?