Published onJanuary 25th, 2024
Understanding Your Responsibilities as a Landlord During a Power Outage
New York City is facing increased power outage risks driven by increases in peak demands and the mandated closure of peaking power plants — power generation facilities that only operate when electrical demand peaks. By 2025, NYC will have a power shortfall of 446 megawatts, equivalent to 400,000 homes without power, and the shortfall is for normal operating conditions.
The threat to the grid is making many property owners nervous; they are questioning landlord responsibilities in a power outage. As a building owner, are you liable for power outages, and to what extent? Discover your responsibilities and how you can limit strain on your system.
What Are Landlord Responsibilities in a Power Outage?
Warranty of Habitability
As a building owner or landlord, you imply a warranty of habitability to every tenant. The implied covenant in every NYC apartment lease is public policy and requires landlords to maintain a property fit for human occupancy. You cannot waive the warranty in writing or spoken agreement; it is a fundamental tenant right.
The warranty extends beyond a tenant’s apartment to all common areas of the building, and it entitles tenants to any conditions or services promised by the landlord in the lease. Working electrical is a promised service, and damaged electrical is a safety hazard.
Based on the warranty of habitability, landlord responsibilities in a power outage will also depend on who is at fault for the issue. For example, suppose a short circuit in the building is a local issue independent of the utility company. In that case, the landlord has a timeline to make necessary repairs before tenants can take legal action. The time they have to make repairs depends on the severity or hazardousness of the issue.
Even if the power outage results from a natural disaster or third-party damage, the property owner is still responsible for the habitability of the building. In 1979, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a landlord possesses the ultimate control and responsibility for the building and, therefore, has a non-waivable and non-delegable duty to maintain it.
Rent Abatement or Reduction
You may not be responsible for a power outage; storms might knock out the power, or too much strain on the grid may cause blackouts. Still, you have a responsibility to your tenants to maintain a habitable property. The 1979 Court of Appeals case, Park West Management Corp. v. Mitchell, clarified that an issue with habitability does not have to be a landlord’s fault. Also, the same case argued that tenants are not responsible for payments during unlivable periods.
Therefore, landlord responsibilities in a power outage may include allowing rent abatements or reductions for the outage period. Typically, tenants only receive abatements or reductions when an outage lasts longer than a few hours. Usually, it has to be for several days. Also, if you have a backup power system, you may not have to allow rent reductions, depending on the amount of backup power available and the power provided.
Before you agree to rent reductions or other financial losses, contact an attorney to learn more about your obligations. While tenant rights are important, you also have rights and a business to protect. Also, to avoid most outage issues, consider installing a whole-building generator. Bolt Electric can help you choose the best generator for your building and tenant needs.
Loss of Use
Tenant rights laws are abundant in NYC; some property owners may even argue they make it difficult to vet prospective tenants, weeding out potential problems and ill-informed individuals. A property owner is not a nanny or a housekeeper; they are not responsible for lost objects or personal property, and in power outages, they are not responsible for putting tenants up in hotel rooms or other lodgings.
Ill-informed tenants believe that a landlord’s insurance policy has loss of use coverage for tenants, which provides reimbursement for hotel stays and relocation costs when a primary residence is unliveable. A landlord’s insurance policy likely only covers the building and property. Renter’s insurance usually includes loss of use coverage, but that is the tenant’s responsibility.
Typically, landlord responsibilities in a power outage do not extend to finding or financing alternative lodging, especially when the outage is not their fault. Tenants might have a legal claim if a building owner is negligent or directly responsible for the power loss.
Building owners can avoid legal drama over negligence claims by maintaining their electrical systems. Hire Bolt Electric or sign an annual service contract to ensure your building never misses routine maintenance or inspections.
Section 2702.2 of the NYC Building Code requires emergency backup power systems for specific buildings, such as high-rises, covered malls, and places of assembly. It also requires backup power for building systems, such as elevators and egress lighting. Landlord responsibilities in a power outage typically include maintaining one or more of the three types of emergency power systems:
- Emergency power systems: The systems are entirely separate from other systems with their own conduit, dedicated rooms, runs, panels, and transfer switches. They power life-safety systems, life-support systems, voice and alarm communications, and elevator components. They provide backup power automatically within 10 seconds of power loss.
- Legally required standby power systems: The NYC Building Code requires these systems, but they do not need to be separate systems. The primary purpose of these systems is to facilitate egress while improving firefighter operations. The systems automatically restore power to selected loads within 60 seconds.
- Optional standby power systems: These systems can share components and wiring with standard or required standby power. Typically, building owners use these systems to prevent data loss, provide human comfort, or maintain communication during outages. The systems can be automatically or manually engaged.
How Can You Comply With Landlord Responsibilities in a Power Outage?
Maintain and Inspect Electrical Systems
Landlord responsibilities in a power outage are straightforward: You must maintain a livable environment and abide by established laws and building codes, including emergency power. Bolt Electric can help get your power back on if the outage is a building issue. If future blackouts and rolling outages worry you, consider installing robust emergency power solutions, such as whole-building generators. Call Bolt Electric at 212-734-5000 to learn about emergency power solutions and discuss annual service contracts.