Arguing with my apartment manager.
April 2, 2005 10:52 PM   Subscribe

For the past three months, my building is having construction directly below my apartment. This has caused me much grief in terms of early morning noise. Since the problems are almost over, I would like a financial reimbursement in light of this inconvenience but the building manager is not very cooperative. What to do?

The building manager dismisses our complaints, saying the construction noise is justified. I'm a college student that sleeps very late and wakes up near noon. It's incredibly annoying to have jackhammers and drills go off starting at 7am in the morning. The construction finishes in a week, there's no point complaining any more, but at this point, I would like a reimbursement. What steps should I take to get my way? Are there any legal precedents for this situation?
posted by alex3005 to Law & Government (25 answers total)
There is likely a clause in your lease or in the building's rules that state when noise is permitted and when it isn't. If the noise is outside of those hours, you have grounds for a complaint, if it's within the permitted hours, you're pretty much going to have to suck it up.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:03 PM on April 2, 2005

'Reimbursement' is for lost monies.
You are seeking special damages or at least, compensation.
The first question is to ask is: what were the consequences - other than sleep loss (which, being during the time period that societies view as acceptable working time, would likely hold little weight in itself) ?

I somehow think you are drawing a very long bow. Unless you could demonstrate that there were monetary repercussions or your grades were adversely affected (and even then the proper remedy could be to seek special dispensation from your institution) or that many other people suffered similarly, then a Judge would probabaly take the view that you had commenced a vexatious action without obvious merit. IANAL.
posted by peacay at 11:06 PM on April 2, 2005

No. Quit whining.
posted by nmiell at 11:12 PM on April 2, 2005

Check with city hall. Cities and counties have various noise ordinances, including something which should be applicable to construction work in residential neighborhoods.

If the work is in violation, find out whether you have the right to file a complaint or police report. Then speak directly to the landlord (not the manager), pointing out that the manager's poor handling of the situation has opened up the landlord to unnecessary liability.

If the landlord refuses to correct the problem promptly and kick in a little compensation for your inconvenience, there's always small claims court. However, plan on moving. Even though it's illegal for landlords to retaliate against tenants for making legit complaints, the relationship will be soured. Better to move anyway; sounds like a jerk manager.

(nmiell your link is broken. Also it seems to be to SF info, whereas Google suggests that alex3005's zip code is in Santa Clara County.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:48 AM on April 3, 2005

The fact that the construction is almost over means you've lost what little leverage you might have had. Also, letting the building manager put you off for three months puts you in a bad negotiating stance.
posted by rdr at 1:08 AM on April 3, 2005

Gah! People who make URLs that depend on which cookies you have need to be hit over the head with a cluebat.

Regardless, construction workers are very much aware of local noise regulations and there is nothing you can do besides lobbying your local government to change them.

(Complaining about how you can't sleep in until noon doesn't get you any sympathy, either.)
posted by nmiell at 1:08 AM on April 3, 2005

Regardless, construction workers are very much aware of local noise regulations

...assuming it's a licensed contractor doing the work, yeah they know the regs. But plenty of apt work gets done by unlicensed "handymen" who don't have a clue about regs and don't get paid enough to care.

Before the work ends, gather whatever evidence you can of the time the noise commences, how long the pattern has been like that, and how loud it is/was in your bedroom at that hour. If you've been complaining to the manager for a while, hopefully you *cough* did make at least one of those in writing and kept a copy, right...?

Even if there's no ordinance in your favor, making a deafening racket at 7am would be pretty obnoxious. Knocking a couple bucks off the rent is a decent goodwill gesture, and a hell of a lot cheaper than eating turnover costs on a new vacancy. If you've been a reliable tenant, a pragmatic landlord will simply thank you for bringing the matter to their attention and throw a couple bucks your way to maintain that good relationship with you the easy cashflow.

(Complaining about how you can't sleep in until noon doesn't get you any sympathy, either.)

Absolutely. Focus on the 7:00am noise level. This isn't about accomodating your personal schedule, it's about what's unreasonably loud for the specific hour. Same pricinple for why making all kinds of racket is fine at midday yet a ticketable offense at 2:00am.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:41 AM on April 3, 2005

7:00am is the usual "it's ok to make noise" time throughout the US, which is why all the power tools start up immediately at that hour. The workers have probably been waiting on site for work to be legal up until then.
posted by nmiell at 1:55 AM on April 3, 2005

Agreed, and don't bother trying to get money out of them in small claims court or anything like that if you can't prove damages. You can get them fined by the city, but unless you can prove damages, any monies you ask them for is either extortion (if you say 'I won't go to the police if you pay me'), which is illegal, or it's asking for punitive damages (asking for money in order to punish the person), which you will usually get laughed out of court for.
posted by SpecialK at 7:48 AM on April 3, 2005

let me amend that: You can get them fined by the city if it's against city ordinance. Otherwise... learn to sleep the hours that the rest of humanity does. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 7:49 AM on April 3, 2005

I agree with what everyone else has said. You have put yourself in a bad negotiating position by waiting until the end of the construction to do anything about it. FWIW, I had something similar happen, and these are some of the steps that you can take.

1) Complain in writing (registered mail) that the construction makes your apartment unlivable for some portion of the day. peacay is construing "reimbursement" too narrowly. You are not asking for reimbursement of money lost, you are arguing that the service that the landlord is providing you (a livable space) is not being provided (because it is unlivable). So you are asking that the fee he is charging you be slashed - e.g., if the apartment is unlivable for 25% of the time, your rent should be slashed 25%. (I should note here that "unlivable" is, of course, a relative term; your argument should not be that you can't sleep until noon, but rather that you can't tolerate the noise and thus can't be in your apartment for those hours of the day).

2) Negotiate with the landlord over this point. Ask for 25% rate reduction; he might offer 10%; etc. Or he might tell you to screw off, in which case you inform him in writing that you are prepared to take the matter to small claims court, etc.

3) If all else fails, withold some of your rent, and send a note with your next check explaining why you are doing so. He might just decide to let the matter lie. Or he might deduct your witholding from your security deposit. Or he might sue you for it.

Please be advised: IANAL, these steps may not necessarily apply in the area that you live in (depending upon local laws), and these are only possible steps of escalating magnitude. In all likelihood, its not worth the time, effort, and bad will of going all the way to step 3 over a few hundred bucks.
posted by googly at 7:50 AM on April 3, 2005

7am is legal? How uncivilized! It should never be before 8am, and 9am would be more reasonable. After 9, I'd entertain the idea the rules were too much against the construction folks. Blah. And its not because I sleep late, its because I value PEACE in the morning. I rarely sleep past 5am.
posted by Goofyy at 7:54 AM on April 3, 2005

I advise against doing anything that would embitter your relationship with your property manager. If you make a huge stink about the construction and do something like withhold rent, chances are that if/when you actually need something from your property manager, he/she will not be in a rush to help you out.

I doubt your property manager would deliberately do make your living conditions miserable. Construction is always a hassle, and besides, I'm sure your property manager has bigger problems to deal with!

Put things in perspective, and give your property manager a break.
posted by elisabeth r at 8:30 AM on April 3, 2005

Are you in Palo Alto, as your zip code would indicate? If so, you might want to read this PDF, specifically the following section:
(c) Construction on Residential Property. Construction, alteration, demolition or repair activities conducted in a residential zone, authorized by valid city building permit, shall be prohibited on Sundays and holidays and is prohibited on all other days except during the hours of eight a.m. and six p.m. Monday through Friday, nine a.m. and six p.m. on Saturday, provided that the construction, demolition or repair activities during those hours meet the following standards:

(1) No individual piece of equipment shall produce a noise level exceeding one hundred ten dBA at a distance of twenty-five feet. If the device is housed within a structure on the property, the measurement shall be made outside the structure at a distance as close to twenty-five feet from the equipment as possible.

(2) The noise level at any point outside of the property plane of the project shall not exceed one hundred ten dBA.
(bolding mine)

That said, I'd be inclined to let it slide too. As others have said, it's something of a stretch to believe that you can get monetary compensation for this. And sure, you might be able to get them to start a little later iin the mornings if you point the above section out to them; but if it's almost over, as you say, then why risk cheesing off your landlord over the difference between 7 AM and 8 AM?
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:34 AM on April 3, 2005

I manage construction projects in occupied apartment buildings all the time. A 7am start is unusual (it's normally 9am for us for residential bldgs). But whatever schedule they're on must have been agreed with the property manager before construction started, and the next step is generally consultation with the residents (whether renters or owners).

Have you asked what your neighbours think? You're not going to get any compensation at this point, but if you have strength in numbers you may be able to get the management to agree to consulting you guys in advance of the next project starting.
posted by dublinemma at 9:15 AM on April 3, 2005

Don't withhold your rent without first consulting a lawyer who is familiar with the laws in your state. In some states, withholding rent is grounds for eviction.
posted by grouse at 9:26 AM on April 3, 2005

Check your state's landlord tenant code before you go withholding any rent. Some state's have regulations stating that rent payments are unrelated to habitability (North Carolina is one of them, I don't know about California) and others allow a tenant to pay rent into an escrow account, rather than to a landlord, if the landlord doesn't address a tenant's written request for repairs in two weeks (Delaware and I think Illinois). If you decide to withhold rent in a way that doesn't comply with California's code, your landlord can take you to court and you'll be stuck paying the back rent, court costs, and maybe some additional damages. (On preview, what grouse said, only with many more unnecessary words.)

You could also see if there are any attorneys in your area with free consultations. They could tell you if it's worth giving the problem any time or energy better than anyone here could.

Oh and I used to work the night shift as a CSR at a bank. I didn't have to be at work until 2:00 p.m. so I would normally not get up until 10 or 11... UNTIL THEY STARTED TEARING DOWN AN OLD WAREHOUSE DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET TO BUILD A HUGE APARTMENT COMPLEX. So I do actually have some sympathy for you. Giant air hammers are no kind of to wake up in the morning.
posted by jennyb at 9:37 AM on April 3, 2005

It is most intriguing to read of the supposed obligations of landlords to tenants from noise originating outside of rented accomodation in the States.
That concept seems on the face of it very foreign, to coign a pun. I would only ever think that the construction company had perhaps transgressed some rule - it is unreasonable on the face of it to think that the responsibility for their transgression can in any way at all be sheeted home to the person who collects my rent.
I mean I understand the argument as to why you might take it up with the landlord - but it just seems so remote from the cause.
posted by peacay at 10:02 AM on April 3, 2005

Um, there's nothing you can do. It's perfectly within his rights to do construction during the hours the law permits. It's kinda silly that you waited three months to bring this up. Had you issued some formal complaints long time ago, you might've been able to to work it out like gentlemen. If there was a significant decrease in your quality of life or there was health issues then you might have a case. As it is, what you're doing looks pretty suspicious. You wait three months without saying anything and then suddenly demand money for your suffering which you made no serious attempt to alleviate.
posted by nixerman at 11:37 AM on April 3, 2005

Wow, a lot of commenters seem not to have read the post very carefully, or the comments.

To those who keep saying alex3005 should have complained earlier or should have garnered support from other disrupted tenant: "The building manager dismisses our complaints, saying the construction noise is justified.... there's no point complaining any more, but at this point." [emphasis added]

For those who think alex3005 must be making ado about nothing: "directly below my apartment...jackhammers and drills go off starting at 7am". Sheesh. A jackhammer right below you, before you've even had that first cup of coffee?? For THREE MONTHS?

"It's perfectly within his rights to do construction during the hours the law permits."

nixerman, scroll up to Johnny Assay's citation. 7:00am is not during the hours that Palo Alto law permits.

"It is most intriguing to read of the supposed obligations of landlords to tenants from noise originating outside of rented accomodation in the States."

peacay, good point. The post doesn't state that the construction is on the landlord's property, though it seems implied. If this is just a utility crew working out on the street, then in the U.S. too it would be ludicrous to hold the landlord liable for actions that are out of his control. However, assuming that it is the landlord's own crew that's breaking Palo Alto's noise ordinance or violating a work permit, that'd be a direct line of responsibility.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:32 PM on April 3, 2005

guilty...I must have misread the first line.

The landlord will have given notice (assumption) prior to the work starting - that would have been the most appropriate time to engage in negotiations - which should have centred around local laws, machinery/expected noise and whether commencement time could be altered. [I'd still think rent reduction would be a very tall order]
But even if the law was broken, it still seems farfetched to think that there is any civil compensation possible unless there were actual damages. Annoying? yes. Inconvenient? yes. But compensable? Bloody unlikely.
posted by peacay at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2005

Best answer: You might want to get creative with the idea of "the implied warrant of habitability." We threw that term around some when a similar fate fell on us, and the land lord discounted about half our rent for that month. (The argument being that if the noise kept us out of our apartment 1/2 the day, then why should you have to pay for that?) I don't know if this is legally kosher, just saying it was an effective argument/negotiating tactic once (and our land lord was kind of reasonable.)
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 7:30 PM on April 3, 2005

bingo, sirmissalot.
posted by Goofyy at 9:06 PM on April 3, 2005

Here's the handook of tenant/landlord rights and repsonsibilities from the California Dept. of Consumer Affairs.
posted by scody at 12:33 AM on April 4, 2005

Just a note - if you use _sirmissalot_'s suggestion, make sure you call it the Implied WarrantY of Habitability.
posted by MeetMegan at 11:09 AM on April 5, 2005

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