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Judge orders landlord to restore water service in Binghamton shut-off case

Shut off ruling - superspot WEBwav

VESTAL, NY (WSKG)—A Broome County Supreme Court judge has ruled that the landlord who turned off one Binghamton family’s water must give them access to restore it.

The ruling, issued Wednesday, confirmed that tenants in Binghamton have a right to access utility controls in the event their service is illegally cut off.

The Garcias have been without water since the start of February, when their landlord, Douglas Ritter, turned off the service to their upstairs apartment on Mary Street. Ritter then padlock the door to the basement, where controls were located, to prevent the Garcias from turning the water back on.

Ritter claimed the Garcias purposely flooded the apartment below them. The landlord said in a court hearing on April 1 that he would only turn the water back on once the Garcias leave their home.

In his decision, Justice Jeffrey Tate said the cause of the leaking remains unclear. Ritter and the downstairs tenant, Derrick Claybourne, testified in April that water continued to leak through the ceiling of the first-floor unit even after service to the Garcias' upstairs apartment was turned off.

Tate consequently ordered that Ritter turn the water back on, ruling that he must also provide the Garcias access to the basement. If he does not, the Garcias have the right to remove the padlock from the door and enter the basement to access the plumbing.

The Garcias’ lawyer, Bill Niebel, said the ruling upholds a tenant’s right to restore utilities turned off in an effort to evict them.

“So when it comes to a manual shut off—flipping a switch or turning a lever—tenants should be able to access those things, to turn them back on,” Niebel said.

New York state law prohibits landlords from disrupting or discontinuing essential services to pressure or force a tenant to leave their home. Doing so can result in an unlawful eviction charge, a Class A misdemeanor.

“That's been clear in the law, but now the court has enforced that law,” Niebel added.

The ruling, however, comes from a civil court of law. The City of Binghamton and the Broome County District Attorney’s office continue to pursue criminal charges for unlawful eviction against Ritter.