It's either me or the door!
May 21, 2010 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Can I withhold rent until my landlord installs a door on my second bedroom?

About four months ago, I moved into a new 2BR apartment in Brooklyn. When asked about the missing door on the second BR, the broker (who works for the management company) said that it would be installed.

Four months later, still no door. We have someone living in the second bedroom and all he has is a curtain for privacy. This goes for every apartment in the building. Nobody has doors yet!

I'm wondering what course of action I can legally take in this situation. Do I send the landlord a letter giving him, say, a 2 week time frame before I start withholding rent? Do I hire someone to install a door and deduct the cost from rent?

One note: we made a stink about the door when signing our lease. The landlord responded by saying he didn't know how long it would take. If I recall correctly, I think he said something along the lines of "It could be a month, it could be 3." But it's getting a little ridiculous at this point.
posted by kmtiszen to Law & Government (15 answers total)
If the door is not in the lease, there's not a whole lot you can do. Verbal promises (especially wishy-washy statements like you've experienced) are nearly impossible to enforce.

Do not withhold rent without consulting a lawyer. Please, please, pretty please do not take withholding rent lightly. I am not a lawyer, but it is not likely that a non-essential part of an apartment that is not mandated by a lease would be grounds for withholding rent.

Best solution: install a door yourself and chalk this up as a lesson in "if it isn't in the contract, it doesn't exist".
posted by saeculorum at 2:05 PM on May 21, 2010

from this article

The landlord is required to provide the following: heat, hot water, extermination, janitorial service, and adequate lighting. Landlords are also required, under the “warranty of habitability,” to maintain all units so that there are no conditions dangerous to life, health and safety.

i'm not sure if the door falls under those categories, but there's information about what do in cases of a landlord not making repairs on that page as well.
posted by nadawi at 2:06 PM on May 21, 2010

Usually, you can buy a door and have it installed yourself, then deduct that amount from your rent check (with a copy of the receipts).

I'm not sure not having a bedroom door is enough to withhold rent.

posted by jabberjaw at 2:08 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tenants Rights Guide:
If a landlord breaches the warranty of habitability, the tenant may sue for a rent reduction. Alternatively, rent regulated tenants can also file a rent reduction complaint with DHCR. The tenant may also withhold rent, but in response, the landlord may sue the tenant for non-payment of rent. In such case, the tenant may countersue for breach of the warranty.
posted by smackfu at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2010

NYC Housing Maintenance Code

more info

again, i don't really see the door falling under the stipulations, but discussing the matter with a housing rep is your next step.
posted by nadawi at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2010

It appears that the landlord is in a battle with the finish carpenter, perhaps because he hasn't been paying his bills (?) or something. You are caught in the middle. Unfortunately, you should have gotten something in writing before you moved in, committing to a time frame for performance and a means to resolve failure to perform. You don't have this. You have many possible solutions at this point, none of which will get you a door without significant out-of-pocket expense.

I would start with a letter to the landlord, giving them "x" days to perform and stating that if they fail to perform, you will install the door at their expense and deduct the cost from your rent payment. DO NOT ACTUALLY INSTALL THE DOOR. Determine whether they are willing to allow you to do this, or whether they respond in some negative manner. At such time as you know how they will (or won't) respond, contact a lawyer and determine your rights under the law and the lease you signed. Follow the lawyer's advice.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:17 PM on May 21, 2010

Call 311.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:45 PM on May 21, 2010

Usually, you can buy a door and have it installed yourself, then deduct that amount from your rent check (with a copy of the receipts).

I think you should call the landlord and inform him that this is what you would like to do, and see what kind of conversation results.
posted by hermitosis at 3:15 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

What is more important to you: Getting the landlord to make this right or giving your roommate more privacy? If it's the latter, a basic interior door with a hole for the knob is less than $30. A little more for hardware, an hour with a screwdriver, and you're done. If you want justice, that will cost you time at least, and money if you go the lawyer route.

I understand: You are a renter. You shouldn't have to pay this at all. But for me, the tradeoff for my time, effort and bother seems worth $50 or so.
posted by sageleaf at 3:24 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

There is decent, basic info on repair issues online, for example here, but I don't know if you're going to find an answer to whether a missing BR door is a housing code violation.

I'm not going to give you any advice, but I will say that you should be aware of the existence of the tenant blacklist before you make a decision about withholding rent and risking a non-payment case. An attorney can help you figure out what your rights are regarding the door and the best way to go about enforcing those rights.

I memailed you a list of tenant attorneys and suggest you call around to find out how much a consultation would cost.
posted by Mavri at 3:34 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do not consult a lawyer for this. A lawyer is much more expensive than a door.
posted by massysett at 3:57 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just being practical and semi-irresponsible here, I'd actually plan on installing the cheapest door I could find myself and withholding that portion of rent. If they want to throw you out, there's a whole long process for doing that, and it's going to be a pain in the ass on their end, and if you're otherwise a good renter, it won't be worth it for $95 or whatever. I'd first send them a 30-day notice of intent or whatever (I'd crib whatever legalese I could find). And after that point, find the cheapest door I could and installing it myself, being fair to them by trying to come as possible to what they'd pay for (probably wholesale) materials and (probably brother-in-law-bargain-basement) installer.

If you're the type who likes to be one-hundred percent by the book and hates risk, or if your finances would be really messed up if they end up fighting it and you end up paying for the door out of your own pocket, then I wouldn't take this advice.
posted by salvia at 6:17 PM on May 21, 2010

the cheapest door at the hardware store is not going to be the most soundproof, and making sure it fits properly and level without a big gap at the bottom can be a real pain...get a more expensive door, have it professionally installed, and deduct it from the rent. turn over copies of the reciepts to the landlord, and just deduct it from the rent. like salvia says, kicking you out over the cost of a door...even an expensive one, is highly unlikely. I wouldn't even discuss it with the landlord first...he promised you a door within three months, he failed to deliver, his inconvenience and expense is no longer your problem and you both have a right to privacy. if you discuss it with him first, you might very well end up with the worlds cheapest and most poorly-installed door, that's not much better than the curtain that's up now, and is just going to make the two of you mad for your entire tenancy. never underestimate the slimeyness of new york city landlords...a leaky faucet in the tub once left me coming home to a three foot square hole cut out of my freshly-painted hallway, exposed pipes, ruined carpet, sheetrock and crap all over the place...never got fixed. fix it properly. deduct it. ignore any negative response. cease worrying about it.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:56 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please don't be hasty here. As I have advised above, it is good to lay a paper trail with your landlord, but you should not install the door before seeking legal advice. Imagine this, the landlord decides that you have damaged the door frame by installing the "wrong" kind of door, has his carpenter rip it out to install the "right" kind of door and bills you for the damage.

Know your legal rights under the law and under the terms of the lease before you proceed.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:20 PM on May 21, 2010

If nobody has doors,maybe you could band together to take some sort of action. Not sure what that is other than installing doors yourselves. Maybe you could make a deal with a carpenter and each apartment pay him separately and deduct from rent. I would also call 311 to see what they advise.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:21 AM on May 22, 2010

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