Help me, handyman!
June 25, 2009 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out what to do to get proper maintenance in my rented apartment within a condo building.

I rent my apartment in a condo building here in New York. I rent directly from the owner of the apartment. She has no other rental properties, and she lives out of state now, though we are in regular contact via email and phone (she moved out of the apartment when my roommate and I moved in). The building has a super, but she has set up an arrangement with another man who lives in the building to do maintenance on the apartment when it is needed, and has asked us to contact him rather than the super.

The problem is that, apparently, we are on completely different schedules from this man. Our dishwasher has been broken since April, and our toilet has developed issues over the past couple weeks (making strange noises, flapper coming undone repeatedly, etc.), and we have not been able to get in touch with him to come look at it. When we call or drop by, he isn't home, and he has told the landlady that when he has tried to drop by, we aren't home (my roommate and I both work late and are often not there in the evening). I've even left a note on his door asking him to call me, but to no avail.

Where should I go from here? A month or so ago I asked my landlady if we should contact the super, but she said to try again with this tenant she's engaged as a handyman. Is there any reason she might want us to not get in touch with the super? I know she pays her common charges. Are these the kind of things a super would deal with in a condo building, anyway?

To add to the issues, my roommate is moving out and I'm showing the apartment to potential roommates now. A broken dishwasher and a toilet that makes weird noises aren't likely to make it very attractive. (All my previous apartments have been similar rental situations: renting directly from owners in their only rental property, but those were freestanding buildings wholly owned, rather than an apartment in a larger condo building. I've also never dealt with an out of state landlord before.)

I'd appreciate advice on how to proceed.
posted by ocherdraco to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Is there any reason she might want us to not get in touch with the super?

Do you know for certain that the condo board (or whatever authoritative body) is aware that she is renting her condo to you? Might there be rules governing leasing the condo that she is breaking? That would be my assumption.

Regardless, I'd call her up and tell her I was done playing phone/doorbell tag with the handyman, that I needed her to make arrangements directly with him to get the repairs done by next Friday, and that if the repairs aren't completed, I'll have to contact the super (or an outside repair service) because this has been going on for too long.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:53 PM on June 25, 2009

I don't know why a super would be responsible for maintenance inside a condo. One thought is that he does these sorts of repairs on the side but charges more than this handyman your landlady has set up.

In any case contact your landlady and make it clear that these things need to be fixed ASAP, whether by the handyman or not. From your description he doesn't seem particularly interested so maybe she ought to hire someone else. But you do need to be flexible as well and coordinate with your roommate a time when someone can actually be home, or drop off the key with whoever to come at another time.
posted by 6550 at 12:57 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in a condo building that has some rentals in New York. Most of the owners live in their apartments, and the rentals are owned by the people who owned the entire building previously, before part of it went condo. The super in our building takes care of everyone, renters and owners, including people who are leasing from an individual owner.

The building you are in may have some condo or co-op rules against individual owners renting to tenants. Maybe that's why she wants you to do business with this other person. That said, if you have a broken appliance and toilet, you need to get them fixed. Either call the super or hire an outside contractor and bill your landlord.
posted by bedhead at 12:59 PM on June 25, 2009

The condo board definitely knows we are there. I have met and spoken with all of them. My landlady is on very good terms with them.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:00 PM on June 25, 2009

She's probably not allowed to sub-let her apartment. So, that's the problem with using the super. Since you talk with her often, why not ask her what to do? Explain that you need a flushing toilet every time you use it, and that your rent amount reflects a working dishwasher. If she can't resolve this herself, ask if she will allow you to call a plumber and whoever else you need for the dishwasher, and then deduct that from your rent. Get this in writing.

For a quick fix with the toilet, while you are trying to find a roommate, know that they are pretty simple mechanisms. I'd guess the problem is that part that's inside the tank (which has the unfortunate name of "ballcock" -- yes, really). You can buy the whole assembly for only a few dollars from a Home Depot or similar store. Take the lid off, and watch while you flush it a few times and you'll see how it works. But, you shouldn't have to do this -- that's the great part about renting.
posted by Houstonian at 1:03 PM on June 25, 2009

She's probably not allowed to sub-let her apartment. (Houstonian)

We're there legitimately. The condo board has a copy of my lease, I met with them when I moved in, etc.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:06 PM on June 25, 2009

I don't know what your lease specifies with regard to the owner's responsibility when it comes to scheduling maintenance. I also don't know why she wouldn't want to call the super. Perhaps the condo association has rules related to rentals (see my experience), or she doesn't want it known that she's renting her unit out for tax reasons)?

Most of my rentals have been through owners, and they typically lived in the area. My one similar experience was in miami, and the owner moved out when I moved into her condo. She was moving in state, but to northern FL, so it might as well have been out of state. Before the lease was final, I did have to go to a condo board meeting and be interviewed. It's been about 10 years so I don't remember all the details, but I do recall that they went over the lease, my references, verified my employment, did a criminal check, etc. The owner had already done these things, they weren't protecting her, they were protecting the condo association's interests. There was a fee for this, maybe $90, and I don't remember if I paid or the owner paid. I probably paid. As you can imagine, this was a lengthy procedure, but that was fine because I wasn't moving till the following month. It's possible that your landlord didn't want to deal with all that or wanted to move right away, so she doesn't want it known that she has a renter?

When it came to maintenance, it was very difficult. The owner was very handy, and she also had a lot of spare time (she was an ER nurse and worked only a couple long days a week) to tinker with things. She was ill prepared to deal with repairs, but called a handyman she knew who used to live in the complex. He was very unreliable and was hard to get a hold of. Finally, I just told her when I'd be available, and asked her to schedule the repair with him and then let me know when he was coming. Luckily, I didn't have many small maintenance issues. With large repairs (fridge, plumbing, ac), she asked me to find a repair place and schedule it, then call her for her credit card info or just pay it and deduct from rent. She eventually got a service contract and that made things even easier.

It seems like unless your contract specifies otherwise, it's up to your landlord to take care of the repairs. It shouldn't be an issue of him not responding to you or dropping by when you're not around. You should formally request that the repairs are made by [date]. Let her know when you'll be available, or at least have her let you know what day/time you need to be available, and have her schedule it. If the guy flakes out, she needs to find someone else to get it done. Chasing after her designated handyman isn't your responsibility.
posted by necessitas at 1:08 PM on June 25, 2009

It could be that she's just wary of letting someone else do repairs in her apartment...? Just a guess. Mr. Adams and I rent a house from a woman who lives out of state, and when she first showed us the place (prior to our signing the lease) she emphasized many times that if we ever needed any repairs done, we should call Bill the Handyman. "He's done work for me for years, he knows this place inside out," she explained. A couple of times we needed something fixed and Bill didn't answer his cell phone for a few days. We asked the landlady if she'd mind if we had someone else do the work, but she was veeery hestitant and said that if it wasn't terribly urgent, could we please just keep trying to get in touch with Bill? On one of those occasions when Bill finally came after weeks of phone tag, he said something like "You know, it wouldn't hurt my feelings if you got someone else to do X in a pinch." I told him about the landlady, and he sort of chuckled and said that yeah, she was kind of weird like that....even when she lived here, she'd wait until he was available for whatever repair. For some reason, she was leery about having a "stranger" tinker with her house.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:19 PM on June 25, 2009

Maybe I'm missing it, but what does your lease say about repairs?

I'm inclined to agree with bedhead re:hire an outside contractor and bill your landlord, as that's how it usually works when Plan A (owner/owner-designate does not fulfill their duties as stated in the contract).

You've been more than patient.

You also might want to review the landlord-tenant laws in your area so you have some understanding of the owner's legal obligations.
posted by foooooogasm at 2:05 PM on June 25, 2009

Call the Super. Get it fixed. If your landlord has a problem with this inform her that these problems needed to be fixed, the person to whom she designated authority was unable to work with you, and if she is angry enough, she can commence eviction proceedings against you.

Be aware, of course, that tenants have very strong protections in NYS, and so she wouldn't really get very far if she tried that.

But asking all of us what to do won't solve your problem.
posted by dfriedman at 4:52 PM on June 25, 2009

So, the update: I was able to reach her preferred handyman, who came and inspected the dishwasher. He agreed that it was busted, and beyond repair. He told my landlady, who has said she does not have the means to replace it (I believe her—she's a single mother with a decent-but-not-great job). I've proposed replacing the dishwasher myself in return for a reduction in the rent. We'll see where it goes.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:34 PM on July 15, 2009

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