[NYC-filter] I'm renting from a residential landlord for the first time, and the experience is really different than the past. He is sending awful and anxiety-inducing letters/text messages about things that it's my understanding are landlord problems/normal rental situations. Please help me figure out how to respond to him, let me know what the objective view of the situation is, and help me with basic residential tenant rights in NYC.
posted by corb to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've previously rented from property management companies/in apartment buildings; this is, as stated, my first residential rental. We are a pretty quiet family and don't usually entertain, though we do have a elementary-school kid. We make enough income to well afford the apartment and pay rent on time. However, we are replacing a somewhat reclusive elderly couple. We are essentially renting the upper floor of a two-family house built in the 1940s. It's beautiful construction, but I don't think much updating has been done on it. One of the main problems is, I think, that there's not much insulation or what have you between most of the floors. Sounds can be carried, and more importantly, we have noticed that water leaks.
Things that are uncertain where fault/responsibility lies: There have occasionally been leaks coming either from our kitchen or bathroom to the downstairs apartment, usually due to plumbing - either a toilet overflowed, or the dishwasher wasn't draining right and somehow sent water downstairs. There has been two leaks due to bath splashing - one when the kid was washing the cat in the bathtub, and the other when she was sick. In each case it has been cleaned/mopped up within minutes, so I feel like this is a floor problem, not a us-being-careless problem, and that it should be repaired. However, when I raised this, I was told that there wasn't a problem and we were just being irresponsible.
Things I think are crazy: Our neighbors have complained of noise, but we don't entertain, and never play the music or TV loud. The only thing I can think of is that we keep later hours than they do - because we both get home from work late, we're up until eleven or twelve routinely, walking around, eating dinner in the dining room, etc. They are, however, as said, pretty thin floors - we, at least, can't hear normal conversation, but we can hear it when they fight, or when their dog barks. When they complain, they always complain directly to the landlord - except for one time when the male of the couple went outside and screamed profanity at our windows rather than coming to the door. That time, we did have two people over, but just talking. Our landlord has said that they said they called in a noise complaint, but the police never came and knocked on our door and I don't know if that really happened or not.
Where the landlord comes in: Each time they've complained of a leak, (Possibly 4-5 times over a year and a half) or a noise issue (3-4 times that I'm aware of) he has either texted, called, emailed, or sent a letter (usually multiple forms) with some form of talk about how this is our fault, and we're being irresponsible. Each time it's been in an email or a letter, he has mentioned the word "eviction" - like, "If this keeps up, you will be evicted." In the last letter, he assumed a cause that was not the case - tub overflow - and said that the tenants downstairs have rights. But as I understand it, so do we!
Intangibles: I don't have anything to quantifiably point to, but a lot of this feels like racism. The borough that we are renting in is a very race-stratified borough, and we live on what is possibly (except for us) an all-white block in a small section of all-white area, which is kind of close to another area that is more mixed, but lower income. The landlord insisted on meeting me in person before agreeing to rent the apartment, but instead of interviewing me or asking questions, it mostly seemed to consist of looking at me and then agreeing. (I am Hispanic, but can pass, if necessary) And a lot of the trouble with our downstairs neighbors particularly over noise, seemed to come when we started inviting our nonwhite friends over. This might just be us borrowing trouble, but I have the uneasy feeling that this is partially what is going on. This seems reinforced when it seems that there's a sense that the downstairs neighbors are the "good tenants" while we are the "bad tenants."
Intellectually, I'm pretty sure that we would probably prevail in a housing court case, given how much effort it takes to evict people who are straight up not paying their rent at all, but given the rental situation in NYC, from what I understand, even going to housing court at all means you will usually not be able to find someone else to rent from. I also suffer from PTSD, which means that the very sight of the word "eviction" freaks me out because it speaks of housing instability.
I'm willing to hire a lawyer if I have to, but would rather fix this/understand what to do at a level that preserves the peace and is less stressful. Please help, and also please let me know where/if I'm being irrational.