Am I legally entitled to a buzz?
August 19, 2009 1:15 PM   Subscribe

After signing the lease and paying the deposit, the owner is asking me to sign a release saying that I know that the door buzzer system does not work and will not be fixed. Is a buzzer something that I'll wish that I had, or will I be fine just having people call when they need to be let in? The buzzer wasn't mentioned either way before I signed the lease (but I saw that the building had a buzzer system without thinking to check it). I wouldn't want to try to get out of the lease and have to redo my apartment search, but it does seem a bit weird not being warned about this in advance. Do I have any recourse? Can I force them to fix it or to give me some sort of discount on my rent, or should I just let it slide?

If it matters the apartment is in Boston and is maybe 4 units in a non owner occupied building.

I tried looking through the tenant rights documents for the state and couldn't see any requirement that the apartment have a buzzer.

I am sharing the apartment with one other person who has no need of a buzzer system (since he is deaf).
posted by vegetableagony to Home & Garden (30 answers total)
I would suggest that you try and negotiate the rent down a little in exchange for signing the release. It may not be worth it to you to try and find a new place to live if he isn't ok with that, but he doesn't know that. You might get a bit knocked off, and if not, it may at least teach the owner to be upfront about those things and not try and scam people into signing releases about things that weren't mentioned before signing the lease.
posted by bone machine at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2009

I don't know if you can force a fix, but I hated the apartment I had which had no buzzer. Not all delivery people/utility company employees carry cell phones. I spent a whole day watching out the window for the gas company to show up after I had spent a whole day the previous week assuming that they were going to call when they showed up.
posted by hwyengr at 1:19 PM on August 19, 2009

I don't have a buzzer, and I don't mind. Friends just call from their cell phones when they're at the front door, and I go down and let them in. On the other hand, I have a friend who lives on the top floor of a five-story walkup without a buzzer system, and she has to climb up and down five flights of stairs whenever anyone comes over. So I'd say that whether or not you'll miss having a buzzer depends entirely on how much hassle it is to go down to the front door and back again.
posted by decathecting at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

This will be a pain, especially for anyone who is not a friend. The gas person example is exactly the kind of thing that makes it a pain.
posted by caddis at 1:22 PM on August 19, 2009

Well, you can not sign it, and hold him to the terms of the lease. Of course, then you're starting out with a confrontation, perhaps not the best way to begin a long (?) tenancy. And you'd best be sure you know the lease very well should he decide to terminate it over this.

Seems unlikely. I'd say don't sign it now (say "I expected it to work, so I want to see if it bothers me not having one for a few months first, because if it's really annoying I will want it fixed, sorry.")

And then live without it (I hate door buzzers, since when I had one half the uses were middle of the night "wrong numbers" or prankster kids) and see if it bothers you.

If it bothers you and you decide you need a buzzer, you can choose to be extra-nice and offer to pay for half. (If you do this, get your own installer guy to fix it, don't trust his numbers.)

But if you decide you don't need it after all, tell him so, and maybe he'll learn that honest approaches can work, too. You can even sign the waiver months later, but maybe by then he won't care any more.
posted by rokusan at 1:23 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're going to want a buzzer. In fact, your roommate is going to want that you install a blinkenlight for the buzzer.

Fed-Ex, UPS, the gas company, the electric company... everybody who isn't your friend is going to use the buzzer. While you can usually get a pizza dude to call you, getting UPS to call you isn't gonna happen.
posted by Netzapper at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2009

The building across the alley from mine does not have a buzzer, and the buzzer in my building requires a phone number or no buzzer for you.

Not everyone has a cell phone. Be prepared for the possibility of lots of shouting from outside as visitors try to get let in to the building. I am in a very urban area and it can be annoying at times.
posted by utsutsu at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2009

If you want the apartment, and a buzzer, and don't want the confrontation, maybe a wireless doorbell will work for you depending on the size of the building?

Something like:
posted by csmason at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2009

I had pretty much the exact same situation (less the landlord wanting me to sign a release). I found it very annoying, but this was about 5 years ago before cell phones were quite as pervasive. In my case I asked that they fix it and they said they would. When they dragged their feet about it, I withheld rent and they fixed it very quickly after that. Those landlords were pretty terrible though, so you may not want to go that extreme a route.

I think rokusan's advice is good. Definitely don't sign anything if they're not giving you anything in return.
posted by Cogito at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't sign it. He should have put that clause as a rider in the lease you signed. Because he didn't, it seems he knew you might not take the apartment if you were aware that the buzzer wasn't working and would never be fixed.

You signed the lease and took residency under the assumption that your building and apartment would have buzzer access. It doesn't, and while I don't know if I'd push him to fix it unless it became super annoying, I definitely wouldn't sign away my legal right to force him to make such a basic repair. You signed a lease under false pretenses, he knew you were signing it under false pretenses, and now he's trying to get you to release him from the consequences of his little deceit.

Tell him (politely) that you'll have your attorney look at it and get back to him. Then ignore him if he has the audacity to ask you again.

Standard disclaimer: IANAL
posted by balls at 1:38 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

In a building where the owner does live, I would have no problem starting off with a confrontation about this. I mean really, it's pretty lame for all the reasons above, not to mention that it's only four units.

However, I'd contact whatever the Boston tenant's union is and see if they know anything about entitlement. After that, use balls' line about having your attorney look at it. After that, discuss with him about your reticence to sign when it wasn't disclosed up front. At the very least, though, document everything and every conversation you have about it. You may need good evidence later. Also, ask your apartment neighbors how they feel about it, you may be able to get a groundswell of support for your effort to finally fix something they've been lamenting for some time.
posted by rhizome at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2009

we've got a wireless doorbell and it's a fine replacement if you don't mind running stairs every so often.
posted by soma lkzx at 1:47 PM on August 19, 2009

Is a buzzer something that I'll wish that I had, or will I be fine just having people call when they need to be let in?

This is the only question of yours I can answer, and I'll say that it sucked for me. I lived on the third floor where the intercom worked but I had to run down and open the door, and that sucked. I also lived on the first floor where the buzzer worked on and off. It also sucked.

If you do live there, please insist on some kind of sign telling people the buzzer doesn't work, since you said there is one, it just doesn't work.
posted by soelo at 1:53 PM on August 19, 2009

No buzzer is a huge pain for getting deliveries. You basically have to wait outside all day.
posted by shownomercy at 2:16 PM on August 19, 2009

Nthing the suggestion of a wireless doorbell. I have one (I live in the basement apartment of a shared house) and it's perfect for alerting me that someone is at the door. I still have to climb the stairs to let them in, but if you lived in a two story house and were upstairs when the doorbell rang, you'd still have to go down stairs to answer it.

Now, an intercom/doorbell system makes sense--you can talk to the person before you take the elevator/stairs down to greet them.

But door opening/unlocking buzzers seem indulgent and downright risky to me, in terms of security. I'd prefer everyone in the building visually see the person they are about to let in instead of risking letting in possibly dangerous strangers. Plus, the old fashioned human-interaction part of me likes greeting my guests at the door (and being greeted at the door when I'm the guest) instead of leaving them to find their way up to my unit.

Even if you ultimately don't care about the buzzer, I absolutely wouldn't sign anything--what benefit would you accrue by signing something more besides the lease? Nothing, that's what, plus you'd be limiting your recourse in case it becomes a problem later. It's the landlord's problem, not yours.
posted by ViolaGrinder at 2:23 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I HATED not having a buzzer. I thought it would be no big deal but ... it was a big deal.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:54 PM on August 19, 2009

Your rights are just the same as they would be in any other state. Pay attention to this part.

For most maintenance issues, though, calling the ISD is not necessary. For other breaches of the code, or issues that require fixing, call your landlord and ask them to repair the damage. Your lease should stipulate who is responsible for the physical maintenance of your apartment. If the landlord has an outside company or contractor doing repairs, you may need to contact that company directly. If your landlord is unresponsive to your requests, send him or her a request for the repairs in writing, and send it certified mail (so you get a dated receipt of when it was delivered). If, after receiving the receipt, you still don’t get any response from your landlord, or the problem is still not fixed, call him or her one final time to indicate that you will be contacting the ISD.

Also, as with any legal issues whatsoever, calling your local bar association for a referral will clear up any doubts you may have. 30 minutes with a lawyer can go a really long way, and even further if you google a bit first.

It's not on your lease. You don't have to sign it, and I'll Nth looking out the window waiting for people to show up. But you really do need to understand that it could very easily strain relationships with your landlord. That might not be something you want.
posted by onedarkride at 3:22 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm buzzerless. It's cost me once (a screw up with the gas company). But, on the other hand, it's lead to a building (only 8 suites) where everybody sort of knows everybody else and keeps a conscious eye on strangers (the best kind of security to my mind).

And then there's the bonus of not a single unsolicited "buzz" or "knock" on my door in almost three years. That's definitely worth something.
posted by philip-random at 3:28 PM on August 19, 2009

My last apartment didn't have a buzzer (although the doorbell worked). In the middle of the winter it was annoying to open the window and lean really far out to try to see if it was FedEx or a bible salesman. If I didn't yell out the window at delivery people they would be gone before I could throw shoes on and get downstairs. When I had a party I had to run up and down 4 flights of stairs all night. I guess I could have propped the door open but I wouldn't want my neighbors to leave the door open so I didn't do it.

Because of this I checked to make sure my new apartment had a nice buzzer system but I didn't test it. I was told it worked with a phone line and there was no one living there so no phone to test it. Its been almost 5 months and it still hasn't been fixed. I work from home and miss a FedEx or messenger delivery almost once a week. I even had him put in a temporary wireless doorbell but no one sees it (even if I put a big sign up!) and its on the same frequency of the neighbor's doorbell. Every time someone comes to their house my doorbell rings.

There was a shooting outside my building a few months ago and the police were trying to get in to check to make sure no one was hit with stray bullets (I know, nice neighborhood, eh?) but they couldn't get in because there's no doorbell. They were jumping up and banging on windows to try to get someone's attention.

Take what you want from my experience. I will say that you need some sort of doorbell. Delivery people do no carry phones, believe me. Wether a buzzer to remotely open the door is important I will let you decide. I think 1st or 2nd floor is fine to run down, 3rd floor up its annoying. Some kind of intercom system with the doorbell would be nice so you don't have to lean out your window to see if its a friend or someone selling something.

You've signed the lease, he can't make you sign that. I wouldn't.
posted by Bunglegirl at 3:57 PM on August 19, 2009

I don't know about the legal ends of your problem, but my buzzer doesn't work and I just don't care. My friends call when they are downstairs and I go let them in. Then again, I only live on the third floor.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:55 PM on August 19, 2009

I had to drive to Delaware from North Philadelphia to pick up an iPod at FedEx because I didn't have a buzzer. I wouldn't sign it, but then again, I never bugged my landlords about it either.
posted by nosila at 5:26 PM on August 19, 2009

Ignore his request to sign anything. Just.... forget it. You know, the same way he forgot to tell you about the buzzer not working.

If he pushes you to sign - what balls said to respond.

Down the road, you might find the buzzer is an issue. You might not. I'm sure you do have rights in Boston requiring a buzzer, otherwise, he wouldn't be asking you you to sign away your rights. Duh.

If you want, negotiate for a rent reduction, instead, and then sign his addendum. Not having a buzzer will be a hassle. You might as well get compensated if you are giving up the right to ever have this item repaired.


Document all conversations with your landlord from now on - even if you just run into him and say, "Hello." Get agreements in writing (emails count for court!) Basically, keep an eye on this guy. Boston winters are damn cold, especially when the heater breaks and your landlord wants you to sign a waiver before ordering up repairs....

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 5:31 PM on August 19, 2009

I don't think it's a terribly big deal to not have a buzzer, but I think it's shady and weird for him to want you to sign a release about it.
posted by desuetude at 5:35 PM on August 19, 2009

I have an apartment with no buzzer and it really sucks getting courier deliveries - it seems that courier drivers do not understand the concept of "telephone" and calling on arrival. Same for utilities workers, etc.

Negotiate the rent down if they want you to sign something.
posted by polyglot at 6:53 PM on August 19, 2009

The mere fact that he wants you to sign a release brings into question whether the law might require him to fix the buzzer. It is so trite to say, but the way to find out is to lawyer up.
posted by caddis at 7:42 PM on August 19, 2009

I'd be kind of worried that your introduction to him is "yeah, it's broken, live with it."
I mean, a buzzer isn't generally a major repair in the scheme of things for a landlord. If that's too much trouble for him what will he do if your hot water heater goes, or toilet stops working, or something far more essential.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:46 PM on August 19, 2009

Wireless doorbell (or even a wired one, depending on your building shape) is a great idea, and I wish I'd thought of it first. Fifteen bucks at Radio Shack.
posted by rokusan at 6:41 AM on August 20, 2009

It was very annoying that my friend didn't have a buzzer - we didn't always have a phone, or didn't have her number handy.

She was also probably annoyed at having to come down to let people in (several flights, which you probably don't have).
posted by jb at 7:57 PM on August 20, 2009

Get a buzzer. My son stood outside someone's apartment for twenty minutes this morning because the phone bill hadn't been paid and the buzzer wasn't working, well and he wasn't brave enough I think to start throwing things at a grown man's window to get his attention or to buzz every other person in the building until he gets let in. If he ever moves to NYC, and that is nearly a certainty, he will need to get some aggression.
posted by caddis at 9:35 PM on August 20, 2009

I don't think it's all that bad. I've lived in a few places in NYC without buzzers and it was fine. In one the building had disconnected it for safety reasons (people were getting buzzed in and then mugging people/robbing apartments) and when they tried to reinstate it several years later no one in the building wanted it fixed. At the other place it just broke and we never bothered getting it fixed. It really cut down on the annoying strangers ringing all the bells to get in, or drunk people thinking they were being funny, or random strangers getting into the building. I can't think of any times when it was a problem to not be able to buzz people in. I just made sure to let people know they needed to call to be let in. Granted, both of these places were second floor apartments so it was easy to run downstairs, and I never had packages delivered at either of these places (always sent to my work address). I wouldn't call it a dealbreaker, but if it is for you, the wireless doorbells are pretty cheap and easy.
posted by min at 8:09 PM on August 25, 2009

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