Somebody's in hot water (sadly, not us)
June 28, 2010 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Apartment is without water until July 6th due to circumstances described below. What kind of compensation should I ask my landlord for?

My girlfriend and I live in a basement apartment that was added onto the building recently. When the apartment was built, it was not connected with gas. Our heat is electric as is our stove. The water in our unit is heated using another unit's gas. Unfortunately, the tenant in this unit has not paid the gas bill for several months and the gas has been shut off, leaving us without hot water.

Our landlord cannot compel the tenant to pay the thousands of dollars that are owed on the account, nor is our landlord in the position to pay the amount owed, so she has decided to switch the gas account to her name. Unfortunately, the gas company will not switch the account until July 6th. We are without hot water until then.

This is affecting our ability to bathe and wash dishes without major inconvenience.

I will be looking over our lease this evening, and contacting our landlord to discuss this situation. We believe that we should be compensated for the inconvenience this has caused us. What sort of compensation should we ask?
posted by baxter_ilion to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know the answer but in the past I have called the Metropolitan Tenants Organization hotline with questions about Chicago rental problems like this.
posted by enn at 12:49 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

So this other tenant was paying the gas bill for two apartments? That's odd. Perhaps there could be a way to take a shower somewhere else and measure either the time you've wasted getting to the substitute shower or any cost involved in using it?
posted by mkb at 12:51 PM on June 28, 2010

This is a big deal. I would be asking for at least a 50% reduction in rent for the time period, to compensate for your hassle. I have no idea of the legal issues, but this is a major quality of life issue for me. However...balance this out with regards to how much you like or dislike your landlord, and how much you like or dislike your place. If you like the landlord and you like the place enough to want to stay, maybe you'll accept less of a settlement . Or vice versa.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:56 PM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: How is your relationship with your landlord? I think being without hot water is completely unacceptable and that the landlord should agree to put you up in a hotel or agree to take whatever that would cost off your rent

Also, I'd suggest letting them make the first compensation offer. It might be better than what you propose and I assume that they will negotiate down from whatever you first suggest. I'd definitely check the landlord/tenant laws in your area to see what they're legally required to do but I certainly think they're morally obligated to cut you a deal on your rent.

Good luck and thank goodness it's summer and not winter.
posted by victoriab at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your hot water was being heated on someone else's dime? This is weird and shady on your landlord's part. It looks like you can deduct 500$ for hotel costs.
(1)Procure reasonable amounts of heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas or plumbing service, as the case may be and upon presentation to the landlord of paid receipts deduct their cost from the rent; or

(2)Recover damages based on the reduction in the fair rental value of the dwelling unit; or

(3)Procure substitute housing, in which case the tenant is excused from paying rent for the period of the landlord's noncompliance. The tenant may recover the cost of the reasonable value of the substitute housing up to an amount equal the monthly rent for each month or portion thereof of noncompliance as prorated.
posted by jeather at 12:58 PM on June 28, 2010

So let me get this straight. You were getting free hot water because someone else was paying for it and now, since that someone else stopped paying for it, you want a reduction in your rent for the time that someone else is not paying to heat your water? Here's an idea. Get the gas connected in your name and let the other guy use the hot water all he wants. Sounds like a fair trade.

If you have to move out until you get hot water (a matter of a little over a week) I don't think the landlord owes you a hotel room. He owes you a basement room where you still have to pay for the electricity. Sounds like you need to move to a place where you can control your own destiny.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:10 PM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Old Geezer - While getting the gas connected in our name would mean that we would be paying for our hot water (<$5/month) it would also mean that we would pay for the other tenant's heating during the winter (approx. $100/month). I think you would agree that that is not a fair trade.

The landlord has taken control of our destiny out of our hands. It is her responsibility to rectify it.
posted by baxter_ilion at 1:24 PM on June 28, 2010

Old Geezer - See baxter_illion's reply.

And moving out is not an option, unless you have the money to pay for us to move. We've been here less than 2 months.

And your second paragraph makes no sense at all. Your answer isn't helpful. Please don't bother if you've nothing useful to add.


In case it wasn't obvious - I'm the girlfriend.

We (so far) like the landlord a lot. We were not aware upon signing the lease that this was how the water was routed or we would have said something before.

Victoriab has it. I don't know WHAT would happen if it was winter - I would be really scared that the pipes would freeze.
posted by bibliogrrl at 1:27 PM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: sio42 - it was explained to us that we were getting free hot water, but that the cost of that hot water was negligible. Additionally, if it wasn't negligible, I imagine the landlord would have covered the cost of our hot water (the lights in the hallway end up on our electric bill, and she reimburses us for that. We are not freeloaders.)

We did not, however, expect that negligence on other tenant's part would cause us to lose hot water.
posted by baxter_ilion at 1:29 PM on June 28, 2010

I would check the county property appraiser web-site - and see how many apartments this building is supposed to have.

My guess from your description is that you rented an illegal apartment.

If you contact any authority, and tell them your situation, you might find yourself out in the street. If the apartment is an illegal apartment, the gov't will likely tell you that you can not rent it, and that you have to move. And, your landlord will be in for a world of hurt for renting an illegal apartment.
posted by Flood at 1:33 PM on June 28, 2010

This actually happened in our old apartment. The upstairs tenant moved out and the apartment was empty. Suddenly, our kitchen sink (but not the bathroom) stopped having hot water. I called the landlord and he realized that the pipes (run by the previous owner) were wacky and our sink was using hot water from the upstairs tenant. Anyway, he had to wait until we moved out (a few months later) to fix it because it required ripping out the cabinets and everything in the kitchen. I'm not sure how he reimbursed the new tenant upstairs for the fact that he was paying for a bit of our hot water....but certainly this can happen and all of the participants can be unaware of what is going on.
posted by victoriab at 1:43 PM on June 28, 2010

You need to call a tenants' rights organization, lay out your situation, and take their advice on resolving it. The complication here is that you weren't paying the gas bill, but neither was the landlord, which adds an extra glaze of sketchy over the entire proceeding.

Starting with a tenants' rights group will help you figure out how to protect yourselves, recover any lost costs from renting what might not be a code-sanctioned dwelling, and find somewhere else to go.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:44 PM on June 28, 2010

This sounds highly sketch to me. I also live in Chicago, and less than $5 a month for hot water sounds really, unrealistically low. Perhaps your landlord was compensating the other tenant for your hot water use. Or perhaps not, making it even sketchier. I don't know what the laws are regarding illegal apartments as Flood brings up, but it's possible this setup applies. Regardless, there is definitely something going on here that is not completely above board, so make sure you stand up for yourselves.

As for a short-term solution, are you friendly with anyone else in the building in whose apartment you could schedule some shower time? Or do you have a nearby gym that offers a per day/week rate so you and your girlfriend could have access to a shower? As far as dishes/hand washing/etc go, you could boil water on the stove and pour it out into a basin, old-school style.

And you should definitely be compensated, as this is a Big, Annoying Deal. Sit down with your landlord and don't leave until you have settled on an arrangement/rent reduction that pleases you. Call the hotline that enn suggests above and know what your rights are. Threaten legal action if necessary.

I can't imagine how much this must suck. The pilot light on the hot water heater in my place went out back in November, and it took 4 hours for the handyman (who lives in the basement, 10 feet from the water heater) to get around to re-lighting it. I was pretty put out, and that was only 4 hours. Good luck the next few days.
posted by phunniemee at 1:55 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

illegal apartment

I'm sure you'll find out for sure when you call your local tenant's union, but here in California it is not a legal apartment until it has its own gas meter.
posted by rhizome at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2010

You can ask your landlord to cover a gym membership for the month and you can shower there. I'm not sure what can be done about dish washing. I'd ask for free rent for the days without hot water.

My landlord failed to fix our building's boiler repeatedly and we were without heat or hot water for ten days in the middle of the winter, and on another occasion, a week and on another occasion ... well, you get the idea. We showered at friends' houses and did a lot of eating out. It sucked. We did what you do in NYC, which is call 311 and make complaints, and discovered that the landlord didn't care about the fines he received.

Anyway, good luck talking with your landlord. I know it isn't a great situation, but do remember that the person who screwed up here is the other tenant and not your landlord.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:41 PM on June 28, 2010

Do you have renters' insurance? Check your policy; they may provide coverage for a hotel or something in the event your apartment becomes "unlivable," which it sounds like it is.

If you don't have renters' insurance, look in to it. It doesn't cost much, and it can save your butt.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 4:08 PM on June 28, 2010

I used to be a small-time landlord. It costs a lot to have separate utilities, but it's important, and this is why. You should get compensated for the extra electric costs - heating water on the stove for washing, etc. And you really should get 1/3 or so of the rent for not having hot water, which the landlord must provide.

Now you need to negotiate successfully. Is there some apt. improvement you want? Do you want the living room painted, or to have a cat? Asking for improvements to the apt. instead of cash is more likely to be successful. Or calmly suggest that you reduce your rent by rent/3 next month, to cover having to go to the Y to shower.
posted by theora55 at 4:09 PM on June 28, 2010

You need to talk to a tenant's council or someone who knows the tenancy laws in your area. What people are saying about it possibly being an illegal apartment are correct, but just because it's an illegal apartment doesn't mean you will necessarily have to move out. It doesn't always work that way. You may even want to talk to a lawyer, because you might have to sue if your landlord won't make an acceptable arrangement.

I would ask the landlord to put you up in a hotel with the alternative being the landlord installs an electric water heater in the unit. This would save everyone money in the long run if it is an energy-efficient unit, and since it might be cheaper than paying 10 days of a Chicago hotel room.
posted by ishotjr at 4:22 PM on June 28, 2010

Well just to offer some least you have *cold* water. I had this problem for a week or so when I moved back to New Orleans after Katrina. It wasn't great but it was better than nothing!

Paper plates and utensils for now?
posted by radioamy at 12:54 AM on June 29, 2010

« Older Impatient black bean lover   |   Panicking and studying don't mix. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.