A decade ago, Lydia and Anthony Garcia, an elderly couple, moved into the second floor of an owner occupied two-flat. The Garcias are both disabled; Lydia requires a wheelchair and oxygen tank and her husband Anthony is confined to a bed. Nearly ten years later, they sought the assistance of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) regarding an eviction. During that time, the basement had been illegally subdivided into two additional apartments. However, the building had only two electrical meters serving all four apartments, hallways and common areas. The Garcias suspected that they were not only paying the electrical bill for their apartment, they were also paying the electric bill for the hallways and other common areas, AND both illegal basement apartments!
Last summer, the Garcias’ landlord terminated their month-to-month tenancy and filed an eviction case against the couple. LCBH accepted their case soon thereafter and filed a counterclaim under the Rental Property Utility Service Act (“RPUSA”). Under the RPUSA, a landlord is forbidden from requiring tenants to pay for utility service to common areas or other dwelling units without providing various written disclosures. Upon proof of violation, a landlord is liable for 100% of the tenant’s utility bills, less any amounts which can be attributed to the to the tenant’s own usage. Lydia and Anthony believed that they had been paying for the basement apartments, and the building’s hallways and other common areas for 9 years, a claim that their landlord continues to dispute.
From the beginning of LCBH’s representation, Lydia and Anthony made it clear that because of their disabilities, they required an extended period of time to find new housing. Fortunately, LCBH was able to use the Garcias’ RPUSA counterclaim to leverage for just such a settlement. Under the settlement, Lydia and Anthony were given more time to move, only required to pay 75% of their monthly rent for four months, and then pay only their rent and utilities until they moved. The Garcias agreed to the settlement and moved in a timely manner without further incident. Thanks to LCBH’s attorneys, the Garcias were taken from the brink of homelessness, and given more time to locate a suitable apartment which meets their medical needs. They now reside in a wheelchair-accessible home with a monthly utility bill for only their home’s electricity usage.