DIY when apt's super & landlord don't?
January 14, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

My main gripe are the dirty hallways. I rent a 1BR in a 32-unit apartment building in Brooklyn. The rent is well below market and the location is good, but the building isn't properly looked after. The super and landlord and by-and-large my neighbors just don't care. What's the best approach?

I have a great deal -- my rent is less than half the market rate and I like the neighborhood. I'm not moving anytime soon. I'm sure many of my neighbors feel that you get what you pay for and don't rock the boat. But I want to make the best of things.

Three issues...
1. Our hallways are almost never swept and mopped (maybe 2x/year for mopping). They are disgustingly dirty. I've called our landlord, who's actually a friendly guy, but he does nothing. I've spoken to the super, who says he'll get around to it. Last time I watched as he mopped only one of six floors. He says he has a bad back, but he should hire someone. I've told him this. I've told the landlord this. Nothing. More generally, the building's just falling apart. The buzzer system doesn't work, a paint job's needed, there are periodic roof leaks that are badly patched, etc. Should I hire someone for cleaning and/or other fix-it jobs? Can I deduct the cost from my rent? I'm inclined to think my laisser-faire landlord wouldn't care.

2. People smoke in the hallways and drop their buts on the ground. When I see someone doing it, I'll sometimes nicely ask them to stop, but it doesn't do any good. One complication: the building is one-third white middle class and two-thirds Puerto Rican lower middle class/poor. And the smokers are Puerto Rican. The consensus culture of the building permits smoking (and littering of buts, candy wrappers, beer bottles, etc.). But it's illegal and gross, right? I've asked my landlord to put up signs, but nothing. I'm told that the thing to do is organize a tenants association, but I'm not sure I'm up to that kind of major effort. And I don't get the feeling that the neighbors would be into it. Is there any other way? Should I put up my own signs? Call the City? I'm hopeful a regular cleaning would help.

3. Sort of a separate issue, but I'm without a lease (as are at least some of my neighbors). I've been asking in letters, phone and in person for about 2 years and nothing. On the upside, no rent increase. But I'm worried about how I'm protected against being evicted without compensation in case the landlord decides to sell the building. Am I right to be worried? What should I do?
posted by timnyc to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, my guess is on the rent issue that if your landlord is as hands off as you say, then all he wants is you to keep sending the rent and he's not going to kick you out. That's not really safety, but that's my take.
posted by josher71 at 2:07 PM on January 14, 2009

You know where you say your rent is half market rate? Guess what, that means you don't get the same service. It's sort of the unwritten rule in rentals like that. Unless your heat doesn't work or water is dripping from your ceiling or something like that you need to buck up and do it yourself. If you really care about keeping the common areas clean you are going to have to convince the other tenants to help you. Not by harassing the landlord but by just cleaning shit up yourself.
posted by aspo at 2:10 PM on January 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

I've been in this situation. I think:

1) You shouldn't hire someone to clean unless there's bubonic plague.
2) It's illegal and gross, but I wouldn't put up signs; if you've asked the other tenants to stop, they likely think you're out of your mind already.
3) In your situation, I did nothing; just kept living there until I wanted to move, then let the landlord know I was moving out about a month ahead of time. He said, "Oh, hey, thanks for letting me know."

When I was living in a run-down place like that, I mentioned it to some friends, and they were appalled. One of them started sputtering incoherently when I got to point three, saying that my living situation was dangerously unstable. But, I don't know, I lived there, it was peachy. You're not in a good place if the worst possible things happen (horrible disease on the hallway floors, roof falls in, landlord evicts everyone), but how likely is the worst possible thing to happen? If you have my shining good fortune, not very likely, apparently!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:11 PM on January 14, 2009

1 & 2) It seems clear they're not going to do anything about it. I think your only options are to either get over it or move out. I mean, I guess you could call Licensing and Inspections or the Health Department. But, at least in Philly, they don't tend to make people stop doing things; they just tend to board up the property and tell everybody to find someplace new to live. Either that or they say, "Yeah, it's filthy. But not so filthy as to warrant our involvement."

But I'm worried about how I'm protected against being evicted without compensation

If you live there, it's your residence. Your landlord (and any subsequent owners) must follow whatever NY and NYC laws cover evictions regardless of whether or not you have a lease. Hell, it's my understanding that they have to follow those rules even if you're squatting there (and have been for some term).
posted by Netzapper at 2:13 PM on January 14, 2009

Yes, you should either do this yourself or hire someone after asking your landlord and then deduct it from the rent. In my experience if they are being negligent they might keep putting it on your monthly bill but will stop eventually, realizing that you are a good tenant and etc.

Once you've cleaned the place up maybe consider putting some ash trays on each floor. Again, it's not awesome you have to deal with this but if your rent is as sweet as you say, you want to be proactive. People are less inclined to mess up something clean than something that is never cleaned anyway.
posted by shownomercy at 2:15 PM on January 14, 2009

I think this is a case of you eating at mcdonalds and expecting french laundry... you should be expecting mcdonalds because thats what you paid for. Even if you pay mcdonalds extra, they still don't have any higher quality food behind the counter. If it bothers you this much then change your venue.
posted by pwally at 2:19 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I lived in a rent stabilized apartment for years, until I couldn't deal with the multitude of small issues anymore, and moved into a market rate unit. I just considered it what I had to deal with for the lower rent, though my building was nowhere near what you described. Checkup on NYC law - I don't know if the lack of a lease means you're automatically on a month to month, or something else - whether the building is rent stabilized or not has some bearing on that. Honestly, if it's not dangerous, and not getting into your apt., I would just bank the extra money and be happy about it.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 2:23 PM on January 14, 2009

I have a great deal -- my rent is less than half the market rate and I like the neighborhood. I'm not moving anytime soon. I'm sure many of my neighbors feel that you get what you pay for and don't rock the boat.


it's a dirty hall, clean it yourself, or get over it.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 2:25 PM on January 14, 2009

I cleaned my disgusting hallway myself, and was very proud of how nice it looked. Try that. Add a butt can if you think that it will help.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2009

I have cleaned the hallway of pretty much every apartment building in which I've lived, because I find it depressing. I didn't scrub it all down perfectly on a weekly basis, but I swept up at least monthly.

I got a few quizzical looks and a couple of thank-you's if someone happened to coming home while I was cleaning. By way of explanation, I shrugged nonchalantly and said the trash bugged me so I was picking up a bit. (Lest they think I was judging or accusing them. No-one likes that.)

If you're the kind of person who's going to feel resentful or frustrated while you're sweeping up butts and tossing bottles, don't do it. If fifteen minutes a month or so of cleaning will improve your quality of life, then just do it and consider it a little bit of good karma.

The broken buzzer and paint and stuff...realistically, I think you get what you pay for there.
posted by desuetude at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't forget to get a few pairs of disposable gloves.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 2:57 PM on January 14, 2009

I live in a cheap apartment in the downtown area of my city. By "cheap" I mean the description seems to match yours, but I get bonus points because (so far) on 3 occasions I've seen homeless curled up sleeping in the hallway outside my door. The apartment tenants seem to think the hallway is a good "storage area". I've seen full trashcans, plastic grocery bags full of pet doodie , broken coffee tables, abandoned vacuum cleaners and various other curious things in the hallway. One day I was sweeping the stairs that lead down to the front street and a few tenants from #3 walked past looking at me like I was crazy :) I dont think they'd seen anyone do that before, but I couldnt stand looking at the cobwebs and dead bugs anymore.

When it comes to cleaning the public areas, my opinion is to go for it, but dont get so crazy that you are hiring repair people. Cleaning is one thing, but messing with building infrastructure (electrical, plumbing, architecture) is another thing entirely. I can see your super/landlord being laissez-faire about minor things, but (in my opinion) you'd be crossing a line if you start doing major renovations without someones approval. Besides, why would you want to invest money and time in a sinkhole that you'll eventually move away from?. Enjoy the entertaining experience of slum living while you can... you'll have stories to tell years down the road :)
posted by jmnugent at 3:00 PM on January 14, 2009

I think this is a case of you figuring out what's really worth more to you in this living situation, what the solutions are and how much trouble you're willing to go through for any of the solutions. As others mentioned above the really cheap rent in a neighborhood you like might be worth it to deal with a dirty hallway and weird neighbors. Or if you are that keen on cleanliness, maybe you feel like doing it yourself. Or is it worth you to drag this out with the super and landlord who obviously aren't going to get to this anytime soon. My priority is more inside my own apartment and my rent first before worrying about the state of things outside in the hallway of the building. And even when I had a toilet problem in my last apartment I ended up fixing it myself because it was either make the cheap and simple fix to replace the flapper so I can use the bathroom normally again, or it was continue having to open up the tank each time I had to flush while I waited around until management or the super got back to me. I figured the former was less trouble than the latter. Dirty hallways really were the least of my worries. We're talking like fast food packages, plastic bags, broken juice bottles, soda cans, soda spills, and piles of cigar casings leftover from kids rolling blunts.

Then again, I'm the person who continued to live in an apartment building (prior to the one mentioned above) after a dude got stabbed and there were large patches of bloodstains on the third floor landing for about a day. It didn't bother me all that much I guess because a) rent was cheap b) utilities included c) washer and dryer in the apartment and d) I knew it was something that went down with the weed dealing kids that set up HQ in our lobby so it really wasn't my business and if you left them alone they left you alone. Eh, and I liked the neighborhood. So, my idea of what's "bearable" or "worth it" might be different from yours.
posted by kkokkodalk at 3:36 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are there trash cans / tins of sand for cigarette butts in the hallways?

Maybe just try placing a trashcan in your hallway and seeing if the other tenants end up using it. That way, even if you do feel the need to sweep up, it may be a little bit easier for you.
posted by pipstar at 4:08 PM on January 14, 2009

I met with some local guys today that run a cleaning service. They quoted me a ridiculous $120 for cleaning the hallways, a job I figure takes 2 hours. I told them my top was $50. They came back with $85. I could look into something cheaper through Craigslist, or as they suggested, find some crackhead, but...

After reading these replies, I think I'll do it myself. I might even invest in one of those wide industrial-style brooms. I may end up with chip on my shoulder, a superiority complex and some weird looks, but I'll give it go.

Thanks to everyone!
posted by timnyc at 4:54 PM on January 14, 2009

If your apartment building was built before 1974, and your rent is less than $2000, your building is probably rent stabilized. This is not as good as rent controlled, but still pretty great for tenants. It means that your rent can only go up a certain percent each year and you have a lot of protections even without a lease.

The NY Rent Guidelines Board says that "If your landlord has not contacted you yet with your renewal lease, you may wish to speak to him/her. To be certain your apartment is rent stabilized, you may wish to call the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the state agency that administers the rent laws, at (718) 739-6400 or (212) 961-8930. If it is, and you haven't received your renewal lease during the proper timeframe, you may want to file a complaint with DHCR. Contact them to file a complaint, or go to their website for a copy of the form RA-90, Tenant's Complaint of Owner's Failure to Renew Lease and/or Failure to Furnish a Copy of a Signed Lease."

If your rent is low, and your place is rent regulated, you should try to keep your it for life and pass it on to your children. No matter what rules you break -pets, short term non-payment, lack of lease etc, it is nearly impossible for a NYC landlord to force you to leave. Housing court rules in favor of the tenant nearly every time.
posted by abirae at 8:39 PM on January 14, 2009

I would call 311.
posted by brujita at 9:48 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

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