Tenant’s Question: My landlord is converting the building I live in from oil to gas. The landlord has told all tenants that the conversion will take approximately one week, and during that time we will not have hot water. We have also been told to remove all items from the storage area where the heating unit and oil tank are located. All tenants pay separate utilities.
Question 1: There is still oil in the tank. Who is responsible for reimbursement for the oil that will be removed?
Question 2: Since all apartments will be without hot water for at least one week, or the duration of the conversion, is the landlord obligated to offer alternative housing during this time?
Question 3: Is full rent required during this time?
Question 4: Is it our responsibility to remove all items from the storage area?
Legal Response: The landlord has a responsibility to maintain the equipment needed to provide utilities and hot water for rental units at all times. There is no exception that allows a landlord to go any longer than required in order to conduct repairs on a property. When landlords fail to meet the requirements of the sanitary code, they are responsible for the difference in value as a result of their repairs and upgrades.
Answer to Question 1: You should check with the oil supplier to see if the oil in the tank can be recovered. I believe that once oil is put in a tank it is considered contaminated and cannot be recovered for a refund by the utility company. If the landlord is taking away the oil that you purchased, he should reimburse you for the amount of oil remaining. Check your most recent receipt for the cost per gallon. When the tank is remediated, they should have a report about how much oil was in it.
Answer to Question 2: The landlord is not required to provide you with alternative housing when repairs or upgrades are made to the property. If the conversion takes longer than stated, immediately call the health department to perform an inspection. They will cite the landlord and give them a certain amount of time to fix it. You can also call them to ask how long the landlord would be allowed to have the hot water off in order to make repairs or upgrades.
Answer to Question 3: Since hot water is considered a necessity under 105 CMR 410.190, failure to provide hot water is a code violation that should entitle you to a rent abatement. Talk to your landlord about providing a rent break for the week that there won’t be hot water. If the landlord wont’ give you a break, you will have to go to court to get the value of the week back.
Answer to Question 4: You have an obligation to move items to allow the landlord to make repairs to the house. Check your lease. Unless the lease gives you the right to use a certain storage area as part of the lease, your use of the storage area is only allowed by the landlord’s permission, which he could revoke. You are not actually allowed to store any items in a way that blocks access to the furnace or hot water heater. Doing so is a violation that you could be cited for. If your stuff is in the way, you have to move it.
Basically, your landlord is responsible for reimbursing you for the cost of the oil you bought and a one week rent abatement (or whatever length the repairs take) for the failure to provide hot water during the upgrade. Whether or not to upgrade the heating system instead of waiting for it to fail is a judgment call by the landlord, and doing so will most likely be considered reasonable. Especially since it’s during the summer, before the weather turns cold and you don’t intend to vacate the unit anytime soon. Remember that the alternative might have been a failing system in the winter, when it would take longer and be less certain about how long it would be down. (This question was submitted in August).