CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Mangers
Q. I live in an apartment building and my electricity is included in my rent. Last Friday the electricity went out. I called my landlord and he said there was nothing he could do, it was beyond his control, something to do with the wiring in the building that had to be repaired.
I had to live without electricity for four days. All of my food spoiled, I had no hot water, not even warm, to shower. I finally left the third night and checked into a hotel because I was so fed up and wanted some light, a TV, and a hot shower!. Do I have any recourse against the landlord? What are my rights…it was stated in the lease that the landlord would provide electricity.
A. This case is unusual, but not entirely uncommon. Unusual because of the way the landlord handled the situation, but not uncommon because there are many rental units in the marketplace in which electricity is included in the rent. In reviewing the facts, it appears that there was a problem with the wiring in the apartment building which technically would not be the landlord’s responsibility IF he did not own the building. But for the sake of this question, it is assumed that the landlord does in fact own the building. In either case, however, it is not the tenant’s fault or responsibility that there is no electricity in the unit. This is compounded because the tenant does have a right to a safe and habitable rental unit, which the landlord IS required to provide based on the laws of the state of Hawaii and presumably the rental agreement which both the landlord and tenant have signed. Irrespective of who is at fault, in this case, the results are indisputable in that during the four days of power failure there was food spoilage, no hot water for hygiene, sanitation, and simple comforts, no lights, no heating, no electronics (which may pose a greater problem if the tenant does a substantial amount of work at home), not to mention the tremendous inconvenience as well as the financial loss due to the tenant having to seek alternative housing (a hotel) for at least one night.
Most of the answers to this case are found in the Landlord / Tenant Code (Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 521). Section 521-42 (a) (3) states that the Landlord is required to make all repairs that are necessary to put and to keep the premises in a habitable condition. Further, Section 521-42 (a) (4), states that the Landlord is required to maintain all electrical….facilities….in good working order and condition. Section 521-64 (c) indicates that the law requires that in cases where repairs to electrical facilities that are provided by the landlord are needed to provide sanitary and habitable living, the landlord must commence repairs within three (3) days of receiving oral or written notice. The statute continues by saying that if the repair work cannot be started within three (3) days, that the landlord inform the tenant of a reasonable time in which the repairs can be started and a reasonable time in which they can be completed. So in looking at the response by the landlord in this case, one would assume that he has failed to not only provide what the rental agreement says is included in the rent, but also failed make any effort or provide any indication of how and when the problem will be fixed.
Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 166 registered members. Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http://hawaii.gov/dcca/areas/ocp/land-lord_tenant or contact an attorney.