Can we make our landlord repaint our steps?
January 28, 2011 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Whoa whoa whoa! Can we make our landlord repaint our concrete porch and front steps?

We moved into a house in Washington DC in December. This was the first renovation conducted by our landlord (note to others: don't rent in this situation), although he owns and manages a number of non-renovated units around the city. I am under the strong impression that he did not use legal/trained labor to do the work on the house. There are a number of things wrong with it. (Examples: the heat doesn't work right and we've had people in our house for weeks on end trying to fix it; the doors and wood dowls in the closets weren't sanded; light switch plates and outlet plates aren't screwed in correctly/evenly... just weird small stuff. When they come to fix stuff they don't really seem to know what they're doing.) The landlord isn't great about having people come around to getting things fixed but at least he eventually does get important stuff repaired eventually.

But here's a big one: it has snowed a few times. The front steps and porch are concrete and were painted with white wall paint. The handyman (who was not one of the remodelers) commented on it as soon as we moved in saying that they should have used paint with sand in it. Only thing about it in our (standard) lease is to remove snow and ice promptly, which we do.

We have slipped already. We basically have stopped using those steps and use the back door, but we do use them to take our dog out at night and the postal workers/UPS people/FedEx people use them.

We put down rough tape strips (Thanks MeFi jobs!) and they helped a little but not completely.

Our dog has slipped and fallen numerous times and we now have a harness to carry him up the steps. My partner slipped with the dog and fell really hard last night.

So, I emailed our landlord last night asking him to repaint the steps and porch with anti-slip abrasive paint. I framed it as a liability issue wrt deliveries in particular.

MeFis smarter than I - given DC law - do I have a legal leg to stand on to make the landlord repaint? And if someone does slip, who is liable?
posted by k8t to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
Do you have renters insurance?

If not, you should get some. It could help cover you in case you were determined liable should such an incident occur (though I personally don't think you should be, but I don't know what D.C. law says about that). (And renters insurance is really cheap.)
posted by zizzle at 8:10 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: We have super complete renter's insurance with extreme liability coverage under an umbrella policy because we have a nanny share in our home. So that's a good thing.
posted by k8t at 8:12 AM on January 28, 2011

This is a very easy thing to do with about $20 worth of paint. It's probably not much more time or effort than your adhesive strips were (removing those might be harder.)

Given that you may have more serious issues to deal with your landlord over in future, maybe this would be a good time to "just do it" yourself, tell him you've done it, and bank a little karma for when you really do need his intervention?
posted by rokusan at 8:18 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As a side note, we have a huge porch and 13 big steps. It isn't a small project.
posted by k8t at 8:26 AM on January 28, 2011

maybe this would be a good time to "just do it" yourself, tell him you've done it, and bank a little karma for when you really do need his intervention deduct the expense from your next rent payment?

At least that's how we roll in NY.
posted by hermitosis at 8:27 AM on January 28, 2011

No matter who does it, it would be very difficult to apply paint in this cold weather.
posted by orme at 8:35 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Why dont you just put down salt so the steps arent slippery?
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:39 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: BobbyDigital - we do.
posted by k8t at 8:39 AM on January 28, 2011

You cannot do the painting in the winter anyhow. How about an anti-slip carpet?
posted by jeather at 8:47 AM on January 28, 2011

paint will not solve your problem as it will not help in snow and ice situations. some work on the stairs will improve things somewhat but not totally.

the first step is to make sure you keep the steps shoveled.

the second step is to use a melting agent like some kind of sno melt or even regular salt.

step three is to inspect stairs regularly and treat with sno melt as needed.

painting won't do crap. what your landlord can do is to install some kind of tread system--most likely by cementing some kind of tread on the steps. because it's done after the fact it'll probably not look as good. it also really needs to be done in warm weather so doing it now would be really expensive. please note it will improve things but will not totally prevent ice slippage. you can find treads at the aptly named

putting on the treads would be pretty inexpensive if you did it yoursel, assuming you're remotely handy. probably better then the person who painted it in the first place. there is nothing wrong in taking a little initiative to make a rental residence more livable.
posted by lester at 8:48 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: @ Lester - we were going to do the treads but at Home Depot the guy told us that the tape worked better. Do you disagree?

And yes, we shovel and use a melting agent (pet safe).
posted by k8t at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2011

Painting WILL do crap, because the problem (as I understand it) IS NOT ice, but slipperiness. It was probably painted with a glossy paint that becomes rock hard in the cold, and any amount of moisture turns it frictionless. So just repainting with a less glossy paint and some sand in it will make the steps almost as good as concrete.

deduct the expense from your next rent payment?

This isn't kosher in all jurisdictions. Unless your lease or the lease law says otherwise, you owe the full rent each month regardless of anything else.
posted by gjc at 9:08 AM on January 28, 2011

You cannot make the landlord do anything. You can try. You can sue.
posted by JayRwv at 9:18 AM on January 28, 2011

The DC law is on your side. The Housing Code Standard includes a clause for "Outside the Apartment," specifying "Porches must have safe and secure floors and railings." Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to cover your stairs, for which the code states, "Stairs and steps must be evenly spaced with railings. Tripping hazards or obstructions are prohibited." Nothing about slickness on stairs, just porch.

You can request a copy of the D.C. Housing Code by contacting the Housing Inspection Section of the Housing Regulation Administration at DCRA at (202) 442-4400. You'll be specifically looking for Title 14 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations.

But if your landlord simply won't improve the safety of your building, despite your repeated requests, you're probably going to have to lawyer up. Use that number above to help you get your claim together, and then contact an attorney to at first write a strongly-worded letter. If no results, a lawyer will likely represent you on contingency, meaning you won't have to pay any money out of pocket.

In short: no, you can't make the landlord make your steps safer. But the courts can, if you want to involve them.
posted by juniperesque at 9:44 AM on January 28, 2011

But if your landlord simply won't improve the safety of your building, despite your repeated requests, you're probably going to have to lawyer up.

Short of lawyering up, you can involve the Housing Inspection people more directly; tell them you think something about the house you rent isn't up to code and it's unsafe, and ask if they can advise you about the code. They may want to come check the house immediately and possibly fine the landlord; that's happened before when I called about such an instance (Atlanta). Boy, were they enthusiastic. "We love to do this kind of thing."

In that case, just informing the landlord that the Housing Inspection people were coming out to check on the thing got immediate action from him. Perhaps your landlord would act if you mention they're going to come and inspect it; perhaps he might act if they come inspect it and fine him/threaten to fine him if he doesn't change it.
posted by galadriel at 9:54 AM on January 28, 2011

I used to be a landlord. I'd mail the landlord a friendly letter. "Hey Landlord, Our concrete steps are painted, and they are really slippery and unsafe. The slightest frost makes them so slick that they are a major safety hazard. We thought you'd want to know about this problem and the potential liability it could represent. "

Painting the steps in winter is unlikely. Where I live, in Maine, the city has salted sand that residents can pick up at Public Works. You need the grit of sand sprinkled on the steps.
posted by theora55 at 10:38 AM on January 28, 2011

2nding theora55 to buy bag of sand from your local building supply and spread it liberally whenever you apply the salt.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:47 AM on January 28, 2011

Well, you've already contacted your landlord, so the horse is out of the barn with regard to how you might best contact him. You chose the liability angle, which sometimes gets landlords going and sometimes makes landlords feel combative.

What you can do now is wait for his response, and put down sand yourself for the time being. I'm not sure why someone would paint concrete steps in a place that gets a decent amount of snow and ice (it's certainly a rarity in Michigan).

You can also put down carpeting or mats, which are generally pretty cheap. I know that my neighbors used to do that back in Michigan, using that rough jute stuff year round. (But then, that was Paul, who seemed to think that jute was the universal decoration solution, since he had it both on his floors inside and on his walls.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2011

I can't imagine that in a snow-enabled city like DC that the building or rental code doesn't somewhere deal with unsafe exterior stairs.
posted by rhizome at 11:47 AM on January 28, 2011

Buy some cheap carpet mats at the hardware store -- the wiry kind that are thin enough to cut with thick scissors. Put them down and hose them off in spring to store until next winter.
posted by Malla at 1:00 PM on January 28, 2011

Oops.Just reread and saw 13 steps! Carpet won't work. Sorry!
posted by Malla at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2011

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