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Water shut off due to non-payment by landlord. What are my rights?
December 16, 2009 5:18 PM   Subscribe

My landlord pays the water bill for my apartment complex. Today the water was shut off in the middle of the day. When I called the water company, they said that the complex was shut off due to non-payment. Are there any legal requirements about notice or use of rental fees by the property management?

I live in Tennessee. I have been living in this complex for about 9 years. Though it has had it's problems, it is spacious and fairly cheap, plus I hate moving. I do pay an additional fee for water (along with rent).

Also, I checked the Better Business Bureau and there is only one complaint on file and there was no response.

Finally, the property management is Starwood Property Management (Lease says Starwood Management LLC.) There is no address on the lease other than our complex. The management company is based out of New York, but the managers here have been told they are not allowed to give me the phone number for the main property office. Would they be required to do that, since they technically do have an office here that I can go to?
posted by slavlin to Work & Money (16 answers total)
 
Check these guys out. Usually, a landlord is obligated to provide certain minimums, running water among them.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:22 PM on December 16, 2009


You certainly have rights to water. The way they "use" the money you pay in rent isn't really the issue. Depending on the amount of time you go without water, you're not being provided a proper living environment.

Do your research to see if you can contact someone to get some answers. But if you continue without water, I would seek legal representation.

Hope that helps,
Thanks.
posted by John-Michael at 5:32 PM on December 16, 2009


Water is definitely a basic necessity that your landlord is required to provide and maintain (since they pay the bill). Kinda like a front door. IAALL in Texas, but as I understand it this is one thing that's fairly uniform across the states.
posted by cmoj at 5:39 PM on December 16, 2009


Yeah, the law in most places is that when the landlord rents you a place, he guarantees you that it will be livable, even if that's not on the lease. A livable apartment has running water and other basics. But are you asking about a separate rental fee thing?
posted by Kirklander at 5:45 PM on December 16, 2009


LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) must register with the state. In Tennessee, that's the Tennessee Department of State. They have a searchable database. Here is the result when I search the entire state for an LLC with the word "Starwood" and "Management".

Maybe I'm reading it incorrectly, but to me (a non-lawyer, non-Tennesseean, non-etc.), it looks like:
a. They became an LLC in 2006, and stopped being an LLC in April of this year (see the History tab).
b. The LLC has one member (see top pane, last line)
c. Their address is a PO box and a location on State St. in Bristol (but see D., below)
d. The law firm they used was Hale and Lyle, which is next door on State St. (see Registered Agent tab, and also the firm's website)

To me it looks like they do not have an office in NY as the LLC is a sole proprietor who registered as an LLC, and who dissolved the LLC this year (which seems not too hopeful for their continued existence).
posted by Houstonian at 5:46 PM on December 16, 2009


Another way to possibly find their NY office telephone number, if they do have one: When you google for the address used in the State listing for the LLC, you find that they have a now-defunct website that had the same address in the footer. Using the Archive.org's wayback machine, you can see the archive of the website. Via the archive, you can see one person whose telephone number is listed. She's also in the News section of that website, listed as a commercial sales person. But, using the Quick Links drop-down field in the top, you can see that they have several other properties.

Possibly, you could call the ones listed and request the phone number for "the corporate headquarters" without specifying that you are a tenant without water. If they give you a Tennessee number, you could say something like, "Oh! I just assumed your company had headquarters in New York? Is this not the same Starwood?" (like you are intimately knowledgeable about such businesses, and have heard of their office in NY).
posted by Houstonian at 6:17 PM on December 16, 2009


IAALL in Texas, but as I understand it this is one thing that's fairly uniform across the states.

Actually, in Alaska it is perfectly ok to rent a "dry cabin"---i.e., one without running water. But I doubt even here that it would be ok to suddenly stop providing running water to a residence that had it at the time of rental.

posted by leahwrenn at 6:32 PM on December 16, 2009


Thank you. I think that may help with finding the actual office.

I am also wanting to know if the water company has a responsibility to notify me as a tenant before they cut service. I found that it is required to notify the tenant in writing before they disconnect in some states, but my Google skills failed me in finding any regulation for Tennessee. I just thought I would find out if there was anything to pursue regarding complaints to any state agencies about that.
posted by slavlin at 6:34 PM on December 16, 2009


Your local tenant's rights organization would also be very helpful in this matter--they can likely answer your notification question quickly rather than you spending time searching out an answer.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:19 PM on December 16, 2009


I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer. I am not licensed in Tennessee, nor is landlord-tenant law a major part of my practice. This is not legal advice.

You really ought to call you local tenants' organization. Search local websites and directories for "tenants' rights," "tenants' union," and similar terms. These people will have dealt with this kind of issue many times before and will know exactly what to do. If your landlord has many properties in the area, they may even have dealt with them before.

The BBB, while they're generally good folk, probably aren't worth your time. They're essentially a private club for businesses, and as I understand, well-run businesses take complaints issued through them seriously, but less-conscientious organizations don't face any real penalty for ignoring them. Call your local tenants' union and ask them where the best place to raise a stink is, and how to do so most efficiently.
posted by tellumo at 7:48 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Houstonian: The company you are pointing two is a domestic llc of Tennessee. If the company is a NY company it would typically register as a foreign llc, so I wonder if this is a different company (or possibly a subsidiary of the NY based one). Also the LLC was created long after the poster originally signed the lease.

Anyway, NY also has a searchable database for companies. The entry for Starwood Management, LLC is very different from the one in the Tenessee database and seems to include an actual address, not just a random law firm acting as a registered agent. This company also appeared to be created around when you would have first moved in.
posted by NormieP at 7:53 PM on December 16, 2009


I am also wanting to know if the water company has a responsibility to notify me as a tenant before they cut service.

Does the water company even know you exist?
posted by smackfu at 5:41 AM on December 17, 2009


I am also wanting to know if the water company has a responsibility to notify me as a tenant before they cut service.

Here in Seattle, I've been watching this one building near my workplace go thru the process of abandonment and foreclosure/auction. One of the many notices that have been on their door at one point or another was this Tenant Notice of Pending Disconnection of Electrical Service.

Even if there is a notification requirement, who knows where they might have posted the notice, and if your landlord would have left it up long enough for you to see it.
posted by nomisxid at 8:32 AM on December 17, 2009


slavlin: "I am also wanting to know if the water company has a responsibility to notify me as a tenant before they cut service. I found that it is required to notify the tenant in writing before they disconnect in some states, but my Google skills failed me in finding any regulation for Tennessee. I just thought I would find out if there was anything to pursue regarding complaints to any state agencies about that."

Doubtful. The utility company doesn't have a contract with you. You aren't their client, technically, nor do you have any agreement or arrangement with them directly.

Even if the utilities are required by law to give notice (as in nomisxid's example), their obligation is to the property company, not to you.

Sometimes it feels like it will be more effective to go after the public agency... but unfortunately in this case it sounds like you have a civil matter on your hands, between two private parties—you and the landlord.
posted by pineapple at 9:32 AM on December 17, 2009


The water company needs to notify the person who pays the water bill before they cut service (ie your landlord). They usually send about 4 notices minimum before they cut you off. When a similar situation happened to me in NJ, I withheld my rent until the water was turned on, and refused to pay the full amount, deducting money for the amount of days I was without water. this is risky, but it is unlikely that your landlord will sue you over this. I'm in NJ.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:56 AM on December 17, 2009


I'm surprised nobody has mentioned contacting the city housing department. Generally no running water in an apartment means it is deemed uninhabitable and the city will act very quickly on such a code violation. You don't have to be responsible for tracking down the home office. The city has legal avenues to pursue this much more quickly and effectively than you. In certain cases they can even intervene -- my local municipality did so in a case where a landlord was months behind on energy payments and they even chipped in from emergency assistance funds to get some of the buildings back in business for the near term (ultimately billed to the landlord, of course).

I withheld my rent until the water was turned on, and refused to pay the full amount, deducting money for the amount of days I was without water. this is risky, but it is unlikely that your landlord will sue you over this.

Be very, very careful when doing this. Tenants rights laws vary widely and in most of the country you don't have the right to do this without risking eviction. Consult an advocacy group or attorney to know your situation before you do this. At the very least you need to create a paper trail documenting the problem and your response.
posted by dhartung at 1:10 PM on December 17, 2009


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