On Your Side Investigators: Renter's rights when hot water is lacking

On Your Side Investigators: Renter's rights when hot water is lacking

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Tenants have rights when hot water is lacking. Ashton Square tenants haven't had hot water for months. Some want to get out of their leases but don't know how. Others just moved out opening themselves up to possibly being sued by their landlord.

Virginia code says that landlords are required to provide hot water not some of the time, but 24-7, according to the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. It says tenants have three choices when any part of their lease isn't being met.

"No reputable landlord would fail to give their tenants a break on rent and charge substantially less for December January if due to circumstances beyond their control they were unable to fix the problem," says Martin Wegbreit, Director of Litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

Ashton Square tenants, who right now boil water for baths or take cold showers, believe the landlord owes them a rent reduction, a hotel stay permission to leave if they want but claim the landlord isn't having it. "I'm stuck here," tenant Chiquita Pleasant says. "What can I do to get out of this lease? My lease is up in August. I want to get out. Well, you are still going to be responsible up until we can either rent it out or it's the end of your lease in August. I have no choice but to deal with the living conditions."

Wegbreit says a tenant's first option is constructive eviction. It's quick but also the most risky. "The landlord's inaction has made the premises not habitable. They give notice to the landlord. They're moving out. They move out."

The second option is to give the landlord a 21 to 30 day written notice. It's a slower process and less risky. Wegbreit says the tenant is basically telling the landlord to "fix the problem in the time I've given you. 10 days, 15 days, whatever, and if so, the lease continues. If you do not, the lease ends in 30 days and then move somewhere else."

Option three is pay your rent to the court. After giving the landlord notice, if they don't correct the problem, file a tenant's assertion in general district
court and make your payments there. "If the tenant wants to move at that point, the judge can give the tenant permission," Wegbreit says. "If the tenant wants to stay, the judge can order the landlord to provide the hot water."

Wegbreit says option three takes the longest, but it's the least risky and puts your problem before the judge. "Sadly, so many tenants have been beaten down by so many landlords for such a long periodo f time that they are willing to put up with all most anything for far too long just because they're afraid of being evicted."

The property manager says they're taking appropriate actions, and it takes time to get city permits. We asked, "Are you giving anybody a prorated
rent or allowing them to break the lease if they like?"

"We do not discuss our leases with anybody other than the tenants who are on the individual leases," says Jennifer Whitlock, property manager with KRS Holding.

We will continue to stay in touch with tenants and Ashton Square management and let you know when the no hot water problem gets resolved.

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