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I mixed business and friendship, and live to regret it.
January 17, 2012 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I rented an apartment owned by a friend (big mistake). She hasn't maintained the apartment and now I'm unsure how I should handle the situation.

In Toronto, ON.

I rented a suite in a house owned by an acquaintance of mine (not a close friend, though our social circles do overlap) in May of last year. This apartment has a beautiful balcony overlooking the street, which was in my mind the main selling feature of this particular apartment.

In mid-August we noticed that our balcony was collapsing and was very unsafe; she came up and inspected it, told us to keep off it, and said she would be getting a contractor to fix it. In October, a contractor came, said it needed to be fixed and was unsafe, and left. I received a phone call from said friend saying that the estimate was too high and she didn't want to spend the money at that time, and instead refinished her own bathroom. Now, it's almost February and our balcony is still in severe disrepair. It's not looking like it will get fixed before March or April. I am moving out, because of this and other reasons, and she's agreed to let us out of the lease in April, a month early.

This is all somewhat straightforward, legally speaking. If it were any other landlord or rental agency, I would call the province to send an inspector, have a work order filed, then file with the Landlord Tenant Board to get renumeration for the time that we were unable to use what I view as reduced/discontinued service to a facility. But, because I don't like standing up for myself or making people mad at me, I've so far kept quiet.

I don't want to be greedy about this, but I feel like a sucker for letting our friendship get in the way of my enjoyment of my apartment. This isn't the only repair she's cheaped out on, though it's the only one that is ongoing. I do think that she doesn't view my full enjoyment of the apartment that I'm paying a pretty penny for as important, and I do think that she thinks our friendship is a reason for me to be 'understanding' about her not wanting to spend the money on the repairs. Whether she has intended that or not, I feel taken advantage of.

I'm not terribly concerned about ending the friendship if that comes about because I'm being fair to myself, but I don't want to appear greedy or villainous to mutual friends. I'm also concerned that she'll withhold a reference and make it more difficult for me to find a new apartment if I say anything about it before I have secured a new place.

What do you guys think would prudent action? Just keep my mouth shut and suck it up? Ask her for a rent reduction for the remaining time here, or going back to when we lost use of the balcony? What's a reasonable amount? Is it ethical to wait until I've gotten a good reference from her (we've been model tenants) and then file the paperwork? I hate making waves, but I also feel kind of crappy not standing up for myself.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
did you pay a security deposit?
posted by batmonkey at 3:06 PM on January 17, 2012


This is not legal advice at all just my gut reaction. I doubt you'll get much for the loss of a balcony. It didn't make the apartment inhabitable in any way. She's letting you out of your lease. How much would make this worth your while. If this is an extremely expensive luxury apartment you might have a better argument, but I doubt this would be worth your while unless you are real desperate for cash and would be happy with whatever you get.

Once again not legal advice, just my gut reaction.
posted by whoaali at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2012


Oh and she'd also have a good argument that due to it being winter you couldn't use it anyway for those months anyone. At most you'd have August through October, maybe.
posted by whoaali at 3:10 PM on January 17, 2012


I don't think you need to "suck it up". A dangerous balcony is not the same thing as a leaky faucet. I am not sure about the laws in Canada, but in the USA you could probably break the lease at any time without penalty if the landlord refused to fix a potentially life-threatening problem. I don't think the landlord can make it all better by just saying "please don't use the balcony". So if you feel like a sucker you could just break the lease now and walk away.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:19 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would ask for rent reduction for the rest of your time and possibly more money for time dating back to the break of the balcony, depending on how she takes the initial broach of the subject.

I would say, "Hey, I hope you don't think I'm being a jerk, but I was hoping we could work out something that's been on my mind. I'd appreciate a rent break because I haven't been able to get out on the balcony, which is why I really rented the apartment in the first place. Remember how much I liked that balcony? I know you've been busy. But what do you think about setting up something? I just feel like I haven't gotten the full use of the apartment."

I wouldn't be too upset if I didn't get around to talking about back pay, because, after all, I waited to bring up the issue, too, and asking for a whole bunch of money and a rent reduction at once seems less likely to be successful. Again, I would go with what the temperature of the conversation is. But I tend to be low key about any living thing, and would live in a hole, so it's not a totally important issue to me.

I would make sure I could have the conversation without resentment or recrimination. Are you hoping to make her pay damages for being a bad landlord? I can understand, but I wouldn't go into it with that attitude because it's bound to show.

If she doesn't help you or becomes defensive, I would think about going the legal route you mentioned, because it doesn't seem like she is being very cool in that scenario. I may not feel bad about getting what I thought I was due.
posted by Elizabeth907 at 3:38 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's the size of the balcony in relation to the rest of the apartment? You could work out a percentage based on that and ask for the equivalent in rent reduction for, what is it, 5 or 6 months?

And yeah, don't feel bad for a second about asking or this from your 'friend', since it didn't seem to stop her from renovating their bathroom.
posted by mannequito at 3:43 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of people who can mix business and friendship relationships. To do that you need to be able to establish clear understanding of obligations and call people out when they don't live up to their commitments. You don't want to do that or like to do that. It's not that no one on this planet can mix business and pleasure. It's that mixing friends and business is not good for you.

That said - move. Do you want to have 4 months of uncomfortable landlord/friend conversations? It wouldn't bug me, but it sounds like it will bother you. I know you like the balcony and you feel wronged. Since she's not moving on getting that fixed, you should move on to an apartment that's a better fit for your needs.
posted by 26.2 at 4:10 PM on January 17, 2012


I don't want to be greedy about this, but I feel like a sucker for letting our friendship get in the way of my enjoyment of my apartment. This isn't the only repair she's cheaped out on, though it's the only one that is ongoing. I do think that she doesn't view my full enjoyment of the apartment that I'm paying a pretty penny for as important, and I do think that she thinks our friendship is a reason for me to be 'understanding' about her not wanting to spend the money on the repairs. Whether she has intended that or not, I feel taken advantage of.

I'm not terribly concerned about ending the friendship if that comes about because I'm being fair to myself, but I don't want to appear greedy or villainous to mutual friends. I'm also concerned that she'll withhold a reference and make it more difficult for me to find a new apartment if I say anything about it before I have secured a new place.


The situation sucks, and I, too, would probably be offended if she left the balcony to rot while fixing her own place up. However, reading your letter and looking at your likely courses of action, I think you left The Happy Place behind about 6 months ago and what you've got left is Revenge or Peace. All three of these options are pretty much mutually exclusive.

If you want to save your other friendships, you could go to her and ask for compensation, and threaten, in so many words, to go the authorities if you don't get it. This may save your friendships with others --- if you are smooth enough to present your actions as calm and reasonable and allow her to clearly establish herself as escalating the situations. (If she were, for example, to say she was never planning to fix it then there truly might be legit risk to passerby that you'd be justified in going to the county for.) However, you would most assuradly make her mad and she'd have the potential to screw with you. You might suffer a little, she might not suffer as much as in pure Revenge, where you get your reference and then drop the bomb.

In the Peace scenario, you swallow your unhappiness, get the references and your deposit back, and keep your friendships with others and maintain civil relationship with her. You're the one that suffers. However, your sufferring will tend to decrease with time --- depends how long you tend to hold grudges.

The Happy Place was back in October, when a week went by and the contractor didn't come and you politely and persistenly reminded her that it needed to be fixed and that if it was going to stay broke then you'd like to be compensated and if she was unwilling to do either then you were going to take action yourself to either get out or force her to fix it, but you didn't want it to come to that. The Happy Place would have been tough to get to even then, but it's a lot easier to make people understand that something's a dealbreaker for you if you move to get out of the deal when it breaks. But I think that ship has sailed at this point: She's going to be blindsided by any assertion that the situation was intolerable given that you've been living with it for six months.

I don't want to seem to be blaming you, here: She's the one at fault, she should indeed have fixed the balcony, and you probably ought to get some kind of break for that. We don't know what convos you've had with her on this issue beyond what you write here, and I'm sure there's a lot of context missing.

But reading your letter, you seem to hope that there's some no-cost solution here where you get your own back, she is rebuked, and there's no social fallout for you in terms of future living situations or personal friends. In all sincerity, I do not think that that is possible. Pick your poison: Is it more important to you to get back at her, or to keep the peace in the other areas of your life? You can have either but not both. You seem pretty pissed, judging by your letter. Revenge is certainly an option for you, and there are certainly real dangers to others if the balcony's about to drop off the building. But you don't get to have revenge and not be the bad guy.
posted by Diablevert at 4:22 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to be a landlord in the US. You don't have a great case for asking for money for lost enjoyment. Do you have a new place yet? Find a new place, and negotiate to leave even earlier.

Lesson: Of course she cares more about her place than yours. This is what people are like.
Lesson: Stop worrying over what others will think, and change your attitude to "I hope our mutual friends don't judge her too harshly for not taking care of the apt. she rented to me. I have every intention of being gracious, as it's water under the bridge."

You can control your approach; it does actually make at least some difference.
posted by theora55 at 5:27 PM on January 17, 2012


I know nothing about this issue in Canada so can't advise you about your rights to remuneration as a tenant. But I can say that no, you can't do anything about this and expect no one to take sides or for her to provide a positive reference, and the longer you wait (waiting for her reference) the less likely it is that you would be granted remuneration.

I personally think the time for standing up for yourself was in October (or when you negotiated breaking the lease early at the latest) and if I were your mutual friend, I wouldn't think you were greedy or villainous but I would think there was something a bit disingenuous on both sides (she's a bad landlord and you're right, is probably relying on your relationship to get out of her duties, but you're blindsiding her by going beyond your initial agreement to break the lease early) -- and I have no doubt that it will cause some sort of waves because any action on your part is bound to piss her off.
posted by sm1tten at 6:46 PM on January 17, 2012


I can't believe you have waited this long to check the ontario landlord and tenants' act. It says here says you should get it inspected, and documented, and have the law breathe down her neck for you.

It will likely come down to a rent reduction. I would think that checking around the area for apartments comparable to yours (sans-balcony) and finding what they rent for is something you should do promptly. Document it as proof of what a fair rent should be for the place.
posted by lizbunny at 7:07 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Former landlord in CA, real estate license in NY....

I had friends in LA with a faulty balcony - let me tell you how many ways to Sunday their crap corporate landlord JUMPED to fix that thing.

I believe the link lizbunny provided is SUPER relevant because here in the US, too, the Building Inspector will FREAK over this. It's like the most dangerous situation ever. Quite frankly, you and your landlord are lucky no one got hurt. SOMEONE COULD STILL GET HURT IF THE BALCONY FAILS UNDER THE WEIGHT OF SNOW, OR IF WATER/ICE GETS IN BETWEEN THE BREAKS AND FORCES THE BALCONY AWAY FROM THE SUPPORTS. IF SOMEONE IS WALKING BELOW OR ON A BALCONY BELOW - TRAGEDY.

THIS IS WHAT WINTER WEATHER DOES, IT'S HOW LARGE ROCKS BREAK OFF OF MOUNTAINS IN WINTER WEATHER - WATER GETS INTO THE CRACKS, FREEZES AND EXPANDS, THE ROCK BREAKS OFF. THIS IS THE SAME PRINCIPAL BEHIND WHY BOTTLES OF FLUID (WINE, BEER) POP AND BREAK IN THE FREEZER WHEN YOU TRY TO "QUICK CHILL" THEM AND FORGET THEY'RE IN THERE.

Your landlord is playing fast and loose with the health and safety of others. Is this a condo or co-op? I bet the neighbors below (or strangers on the street/lawn/parking below) would thank you for getting this cleared up immediately.

I'd give your friend exactly ONE chance, politely and in writing, and then I would notify the building inspector, the co-op or condo board or association, and I would move out.

It's possible your "friend" doesn't realize what a liability and danger this situation is. In Totonto, where it snows all the time. But PLEASE DO NOT WAIT TO TAKE CARE OF THIS.

Wow.

Please update. Good luck. Be polite at first, but please please please communicate how serious this is. Do call in the Building Inspector. This is an unfortunate tragedy waiting to happen, that is easily avoidable. I wouldn't take the word of one contractor that this situation is stable through the winter. No. Not at all.


(yes you might be due compensation for lack of use of your balcony - what seasons are involved 100% is not an issue from a legal/lease perspective. however. the safety concern is paramount here. anyway, once your landlord "gets" what a big deal this is, you'll be in a better negotiating position for whatever you want. just please make sure the situation is safe, first.)

I'll go ahead and thank you now for your efforts on behalf of any possible victims who will now not be victims because you acted responsibly.

THANK YOU.
posted by jbenben at 11:02 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What do you guys think would be prudent action?

Honestly, for me this one would fall into "Life Lesson Learned" and move on territory.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:52 PM on January 17, 2012


How would she know it's this big a deal to her if you didn't talk about it with her? And why is calling the government the first response instead of talking to the landlord?

Be aware that if you take that route, filing some kind of paperwork without talking to your friend, your mutual friends may not all agree with your approach.

I think you let this go and learn a lesson from it.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:59 AM on January 18, 2012


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