The landlord is required in nearly every state to provide adequate power to the apartment. If it’s caused by the landlord, like from faulty wiring, it’s usually considered a violation of the lease if it lasts for an extended period of time. In many states, landlords are responsible even if the power outage if the fault of the power company.
Brief Power Outages
If the place loses power for a few hours, the tenant may look to local laws requiring electricity or the lease. The tenant’s remedies for temporary power outages are very limited unless they are subject to frequent but short power outages.
The implied warranty of habitability doesn’t apply to a brief outage because it doesn’t make the place unfit for habitation. If multiple outages are brief but recurring, the tenant may have a claim that the place is unfit for habitation and may seek the remedies outlined above.
Extended Power Outage
Generally, landlords are required to provide housing that’s fit for habitation under the “implied warranty of habitability,” which says that every lease includes an implicit promise to provide a safe, livable home. If the power outage is extended (or regularly recurring and frequent) and is caused by the landlord or by normal and tear, the place may be considered unfit for habitation. If the landlord is notified and fails to make reasonably timely repairs (usually 24 to 48 hours), then the landlord is deemed to have violated the lease. The tenant can choose to move out. In some states, tenants can call an electrician and deduct the costs from rent or withhold rent until the problem is fixed (please look at state laws for more details). Tenants may be also able to work with the landlord to come to an agreement for a reduction in rent, so the tenant doesn’t pay for the days where they couldn’t live in the apartment.
Outage Caused by Utility Company
In most states, landlords will be responsible for ensuring that power is provided even if it’s out of their control. Where the power company fails to provide electricity for a unit, the landlord will be in violation of the “implied warranty of habitability” – an implied guarantee that the apartment is suitable for human habitation. For example, in New York, the highest court ruled that, “acts of third parties or natural disaster are within the scope of the warranty as well.” Park West Management Corp. v. Mitchell, 47 NY2d 316, 418 NYS2d 310. That means the tenant is free to move out and the landlord must return the tenant’s deposit.
If a tenant attempts to rewire their home, or uses a high-power device that causes an outage, the tenant is responsible for the cost of repairs they caused.
Breaking the Lease
If the landlord has broken a promise in the lease, the tenant is free to break their end of the agreement too. The tenant can move out and is entitled to get their deposit back. Alternatively, the tenant can go to court and seek a reduction in rent or a court order requiring the landlord to fix the problem.
In every state except Arkansas, leases include an “implied warranty of habitability” which requires apartments to be safe and livable. It exists as a tenant right even if there is no written lease, it’s not mentioned in the lease, or even despite a lease that says the landlord is not responsible. The exact details of what needs to be fixed to keep the apartment safe and livable depends heavily by state, but the key factors are health and safety (not comfort, annoyance, or quality). Unless the tenant caused the problem, the landlord cannot charge tenants for these repairs and tenants are free to break a lease if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem in a reasonable time (some jurisdictions specify exact time periods by which landlords must fix issues). A house without power is generally considered uninhabitable.
In breaking the lease and moving out, tenants are entitled to their deposit back, but in practicality, it may prove difficult to get the landlord to hand back money. Furthermore, the tenant’s next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so tenants should be prepared with documentation and the story of why it was necessary to move out.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Login to RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area. Often, local users who've dealt with the same problem can provide helpful tips beyond the law, such as numbers for local non-profits or lawyers, tips about DIY fixes, and stories about judges.
Documenting the Problem
Tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord, and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free app that helps with each step of this process. Tenants can login for an easy way to track their problems, share updates with their roommates, keep their landlord notified, see laws for their state and locality, and chat with other tenants about taking action. RenterPeace also comes with a home management system to track chores, shopping, and finances. It's the ultimate, must-have app for every renter. Learn more.
Using Property Management Software
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but landlords can use RenterPeace for free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Learn more.