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Old 04-06-2013, 04:41 PM
 
1 posts, read 1,703 times
Reputation: 10

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Hello,

I am living in a rented house in Maine. I looked at the house for rent in October and was told by the landlord that the heating costs (my responsibility) would be $600 to $800 a year. It was the main concern I had before agreeing to renting. I agreed and rented. As winter came; the furnace was broken; it was finally fixed in January. All this time; up until this date of April 6th; I have paid out over $2500 in oil costs; and around the same in electricity. The people that have come several times to fix the furnace and oil issues (our pipes froze once due to cold air coming in from outside - a structural issue in the house) have told both myself and the landlord that the furnace continues to turn on and off continuously because the furnace is located next to a basement door that has major holes to the outside - allowing in the cold air; thus causing the furnace to always kick on.... these oil folks (of whom one of the landlords - they are a husband and wife in the middle of divorce thus having difference of opinions on everything to do with the house I am renting) - these oil folks trying to resolve the heating issues have told the landlord that the house is poorly insulated, etc., that the furnace needs further fixing and the landlord only came by to adjust my front door stating that the pipes froze because the front door was not lined up correctly letting in the cold air. So okay - no more frozen pipes; but he also repaired this after the weather began to warm up. Now - I am behind in rent because of the huge heating costs. My bill for the electric went from the October bill being $90 dollars to the January bill being $206. The oil bill... my gosh its been at least $370 a month. I have just gotten a 5 day notice to quit on my door as I am 6 days late on my rent and owe for February too. I paid a $1750 security deposit. Not a last month; etc. In Maine; the law requires a 7 day notice to quit to be delivered to the tenant at least three tries by hand. I found it taped to my door today. Maine law; as far as I can find also states that a landlord may apply a security deposit towards arrears in rent. My questions are many... but most of all... first; I have tried so many times to talk to my landlord about this heating cost; about how high this is; how unaffordable it is... how even the oil experts are saying the house is not sound, nor is the furnace. The landlord disagrees with the oil company stating they just want more money to fix it. Now.. I have this notice to quit. I have never gotten a notice to quit or an eviction in my life - I am 42. I DO owe rent. But I had to choose rent versus heat during winter months with a child here. Do I have any legal leg to stand on at all with what I was verbally told to get me to sign the lease and rent this house of heating nightmares or not? What do I do? I am on disability; I don't have much; but again; I had to make that same decision this month; oil or rent. I can pay something towards the rent owed; but not all of it and the notice to quit says partial payments will be taken but the termination will still be carried out. Ive never been homeless; I have lost my cable already; we struggle to buy food. It is obvious that this is too expensive to live in - $900 a month plus utilities. What do I do to keep myself free from an eviction on my record. Do I have a case for misrepresentation of the utilities before renting? I have a witness to the oral report that the heating costs would not exceed $6-800 a YEAR. Of course I have the oil company as witness to the outrageous costs too. I do NOT feel entitled to free rent, I rented this planning to pay the rent; but I rented it thinking I could afford it - I did not rent it knowing that the heating price would be this high nor was I led to believe so; in fact I was directly advised otherwise. Anybody with a comment; knowledge; anything.....?
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Old 04-07-2013, 07:59 AM
 
Location: Log "cabin" west of Bangor
6,371 posts, read 7,371,227 times
Reputation: 12620
You don't have much of a leg to stand on. What you were 'told' the heating costs might be is not relevant- this is a variable cost that goes up and down with the temperature and wind- at the age of 42, how could you not know this by now?

Quote:
The people that have come several times to fix the furnace and oil issues...have told both myself and the landlord that the furnace continues to turn on and off continuously because the furnace is located next to a basement door that has major holes to the outside - allowing in the cold air; thus causing the furnace to always kick on...
This is not really correct. The location of the furnace is irrelevant, it could be in a drafty shed outside and it would not constantly kick on and off. The furnace is controlled by one or more thermostats in the living space(s). A thermostat is really nothing more than a temperature controlled on-off switch. When the temperature in the living space goes below the setpoint, the switch closes, which turns the furnace 'on'. The furnace runs until the temperature in the living space goes above the setpoint, at which time the switch opens and causes the furnace to shut down.

The higher you set the thermostat, the more oil you will use.

The overall draftiness of the house- the poorly fit front door, holes in the basement and poor insulation will all contribute to heat loss in the living spaces, which will increase the times and duration of the furnace running to keep the temperature at the point that you have selected on the thermostat(s).

If your oil bill was only $370/mo, it doesn't seem to be particularly outrageous to me. If I were to try to heat my house with oil, it would cost me more than that every week. You really should have had a better plan for dealing with this expense- setting aside a fixed amount of money for oil every week/month even when you were not using that much during the warmer periods, so that the funds would have been there when you needed them. You failed to budget properly. If money is/was that tight because you are on disability and not working, you should not have been spending it on a 'luxury' item like cable TV- that money should have been put toward a fund for heat and other expenses.

I don't know if there are any standards that a rental unit might be required to meet in regards to how well it is insulated, etc. If there are, you might have been able to force the landlord to correct the deficiencies had you acted sooner.

At this point, however, as far as I can see you only have two options- get out now, or allow the the landlord to go through a formal eviction proceeding through the court system.

If you leave now (as per the 'notice to quit') there will be nothing on your 'record' unless you fail to pay the amount owed to the landlord and he chooses to pursue the debt by filing a lawsuit and taking you to court, at which point it will become public record.

If you elect to remain despite the 'notice to quit' and force the landlord to pursue eviction through the court system, this will become public record. I am familiar with this sort of proceeding, having been through one myself, and I see it as highly unlikely that you would win and be allowed to stay. If you were to get a *very* sympathetic judge there is a very tiny possibility that something could be worked out, but I doubt very much that this will happen.

Actually, you have a third option, which is a variation of the second option- you could discontinue all payments to the landlord, conserve as much of your funds as possible in order to have enough money to secure another rental (choose better this time) and allow the landlord to pursue the court case for eviction, which will buy you some time. I cannot guess how long it will take for the case against you to proceed but it may be enough to gain you the time needed to secure the amount of cash needed to move to another place. The judge will most likely order you out, but will probably give you an amount of time to do so, maybe as much as another 30 days, by which time you may be able to find another place and move, using the funds you *should have* paid the landlord but did not.

Please note: You will *still* owe the landlord this money and you *will* need to arrange to pay him, else he will be in a position to pursue a second case against you for the debt owed to him. However, if after having moved out, you begin making payments to him on a regular basis, if he chooses to pursue a lawsuit in court you will have a defense that you are acting 'in good faith' by making payments toward your debt and the judge/magistrate is likely to view this favorably (for you), and based on your situation may not increase the amount of money you are required to pay each month, so long as the amount you are already paying has a chance of satisfying the debt in a 'reasonable' amount of time.
If the landlord is not completely stupid, and you show a good faith effort to satisfy your debt, he might elect *not* to cause himself additional time and expense to take you to court to recover the debt.

While the third option may not be completely 'honest', sometimes we have to make difficult decisions- and it may be necessary to do what is 'best' for *you* in order to keep things from getting worse- you have a child to care for, and this must be taken into consideration.

I'm offering this with the assumption that you are basically an honest person caught in a bad situation because you made some poor choices, rather than someone who is trying to 'game' the system.

You should also note that, if you choose wisely, it might be possible for you to actually BUY a house for less money than what you are paying for rent. Do not overlook this option.
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Old 04-07-2013, 08:27 AM
 
Location: Beautiful Rhode Island
7,527 posts, read 11,997,413 times
Reputation: 7551
Quote:
Originally Posted by singlemommaine View Post
Hello,

The people that have come several times to fix the furnace and oil issues (our pipes froze once due to cold air coming in from outside - a structural issue in the house) have told both myself and the landlord that the furnace continues to turn on and off continuously because the furnace is located next to a basement door that has major holes to the outside - allowing in the cold air; thus causing the furnace to always kick on.... these oil folks (of whom one of the landlords - they are a husband and wife in the middle of divorce thus having difference of opinions on everything to do with the house I am renting) - these oil folks trying to resolve the heating issues have told the landlord that the house is poorly insulated, etc., that the furnace needs further fixing and the landlord only came by to adjust my front door stating that the pipes froze because the front door was not lined up correctly letting in the cold air. So okay - no more frozen pipes; but he also repaired this after the weather began to warm up. Now - I am behind in rent because of the huge heating costs.
Unfortunately, you may be out of luck since the landlord tried to fix the furnace. If he had not, you would have a case since he legally has to repair.

In retrospect, you could have done several things:
1. Sent him a registered letter reporting the large holes in the basement for repair. If he chose not to repair, you could have (most likely reading and following the appropriate Maine rules) repaired and charged him.
2. Plugged as many basement holes as you could yourself. Mix and pour a bucket of cement. Tenants in cold climates often resort to sealing up houses with plastic, weatherstripping, etc

At this point, you could contact a public service attorney in your area and ask his/her advice. Also contact social services in your area- if you had done this earlier, they might have assisted with the heating bill.

Good luck to you...
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