How is my kitchen like the Internet?
October 10, 2008 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Should I be getting a break on my rent because my kitchen pipes are clogged?

Last Wednesday evening, my kitchen sink backed up pretty bad. Then I noticed that the cabinet area under the sink had some (~1-2 liters) standing water, and that the carpet next to the kitchen was getting wet from underneath. We stopped using the sink and dishwasher, aimed a fan at the carpet, and my roommate called our landlord the next morning. Nobody came out Thursday, and when he called back Friday they said that somehow they hadn't got the work order in and now it would be Monday before anyone could come out.

Plumber came out Monday and has been working on it since. He said it is a very bad clog, broke his plumber's snake trying to clear it, and now is excavating part of our building to get at the pipes from underneath. So it is being worked on, but now it has been more than a week since we could really use our kitchen. Basically all of our dishes are on the kitchen counter, and I've had to eat out most every meal, as we've run out of clean dishes to cook with. On top of that our carpet is still damp and a bit discolored, and our apartment has started to smell.

Now if this were our fault of course we would suck it up and be glad that they were fixing it, but I don't think that's the case. Neither me nor my roommate put much of anything solid down the drain, and it all goes through the disposal. Our kitchen shares pipes with (at least) our neighbor through the wall, and we are suspecting that it is his fault (gross: when the sink backed up a bunch of rice came with the water, which neither me nor my roommate had made for months). A few people have mentioned that we should not be responsible for all of our rent this month because of the state of our apartment. Does this seem like a reasonable thing to request, or is this just one of those things that happens? If it is appropriate, what would be a realistic reduction to seek?
posted by Who_Am_I to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might want to take a look at this page, assuming you're in North Carolina. The short answer is maybe.
posted by jdfan at 8:44 AM on October 10, 2008

This is the sort of thing that is often in your lease. Check there first.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:47 AM on October 10, 2008

If you have lost a key function of your apartment through no fault of your own, it is not unreasonable to ask for a rent reduction. Your question raises a few questions though -- can you not wash your dishes at another sink or get to your fridge/stove at all? If so, you could ask for a discount based on the lost use of the kitchen for a fraction of a month. Whether you are actually entitled to a discount varies with the law of your state. Whether it is worth it may depend on how long the inconvenience lasts. Losing part of the functionality of the kitchen for a part of the month may not be worth bitching about. Losing all kitchen functionality for the better part of the month probably would.

If the kitchen represents 1/4 of the use of your apartment and you lose it for two weeks and your rent is $1,000 per month, you might ask for $150 off. (I picked the 1/4 somewhat arbitrarily). If you can point to a formula as a basis for the request, you may have better luck than if you just say, how about you give me a discount because my kitchen smells like someone else's moldy rice.
posted by *s at 8:59 AM on October 10, 2008

In lease language, there is often a clause about a "warrant of habitability." In some states, this is an implied part of every lease by state law, even if not explicitly written into your lease, and you can't give up the right to a habitable apartment through any other language in your lease. This means that if your use of something critical to your living space is somehow impeded, you're not getting what you're paying rent for, and this can be considered a violation of the lease on your landlord's part if not addressed in a timely manner. This law applies to things like having warm running water, heat in winter, a place free of serious pest issues, but not more minor things. Your plumbing problem sounds plenty serious enough to be covered under this clause to me, but IANAL.

Now, that's not to say you're automatically going to get your rent back this month. You'll still have to ask, and if that fails, you have small claims court. Word a very polite letter to your landlord saying you haven't had use of your kitchen for X days, you've had to deal with the extra expense of eating out, etc, and cite your state's relevant property law. Ask for some rent back; how much is probably a negotiation between you and your landlord. If they're excavating you could be in for a very long time without a kitchen, and your case might get stronger if you wait until it's done. I was in a similar situation where I gave up my bedroom because a pipe burst under the floor, and I got more rent back by asking for it after it was clear I had been sleeping on the couch for a month and was in for another month with no room because the repairs took twice as long as they should have. Before that, I might have just seemed whiny.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:51 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding slow graffiti's response. Housing and health code varies state by state, but I suspect universally requires that a kitchen have a working sink. You've been without a sink for over a week. Check your code, and you *may* find that you're off the hook for rent for that period.
posted by zippy at 10:02 AM on October 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks guys. They finally got this fixed after two weeks of digging. I haven't looked through our lease yet, but I'll do that when I get a chance.
posted by Who_Am_I at 9:53 AM on October 16, 2008

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