Not worth dying for
December 9, 2011 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I have a, perhaps irrational, fear that building I'm living in is going to collapse and kill me in my sleep.

I have access to the entire building. This is a rental. I'm willing to spend a few hundred on a professional, though that would hurt me financially. I'm willing to do some legwork and research on my own to minimize spending money.

We are trying to avoid the landlord unless action needs to be taken, because we very much need him on our side as a business relationship (building is confirmed double-zoned, commercial/residential).

So my goal is to either calm my fears, find a legal reason to break the lease, or get anything fixed that needs fixing. What do I do next?
posted by zeek321 to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
Therapy. Hiring a professional to check the foundation won't help; you'll just start wondering about whether he was really trained and certified, or whether he really checked everything. Or, you'll just start to get worked up over something else happening in your sleep.
posted by downing street memo at 6:36 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (I do not have a history of paranoia, obsession, etc. I have concrete concerns that I would point out to a professional. Practical stuff is what I'm looking for. Do I need a "contractor," for example? What do I google?)
posted by zeek321 at 6:39 AM on December 9, 2011

Why do you think the building is going to collapse? What concrete evidence can you cite? Do other tenants feel as you do, if there are other tenants? For how long have you felt this way? Do you feel this way more at some times than at others?
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:40 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

You know how rare it is for buildings to collapse out of nowhere and to kill someone?
posted by smackfu at 6:41 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you say "perhaps irrational," does that mean you have any reason to worry that the building is going to collapse?

If you're in Chicago, as your profile indicates, the Chicago Department of Buildings should be able to provide information on the certificate of residency (if there are 4 or more units in the building).

You could also check with the Chicago Tenants Union.

If you're not in Chicago, check for the analogues in your local government and local nonprofit sphere. And update your profile!
posted by brianogilvie at 6:42 AM on December 9, 2011

Yeah, what's driving these fears? Is it an old building? You say you have concrete concerns; what are they?
posted by cooker girl at 6:42 AM on December 9, 2011

Sorry, that second link is correct, but the name is actually "Illinois Tenants Union."
posted by brianogilvie at 6:42 AM on December 9, 2011

I think you really need to articulate why you fear this is going to happen - what, exactly, appears to be wrong with the building?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:42 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This inspection request site looks helpful if your building is in Chicago. I would also suggest calling 311 to explain your concerns, and to see if anyone at the city has advice for you.

Buildings almost never suddenly go kaput. I don't know what your building is like, but worrying about imminent collapse is like worrying about sudden wolf attacks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:44 AM on December 9, 2011

Response by poster: I am not going to post specifics because you cannot diagnose my building from afar. I should have changed my profile--I'm currently in Philadelphia. But some of the links above are giving me ideas. So Pennsylvania/Philly-specific stuff would be helpful. I'll try not thread-sit further.
posted by zeek321 at 6:47 AM on December 9, 2011

In the UK, we would call a professional who checks if a building is sound a "buildings surveyor". You can get a full structural survey for around £200 +.
posted by richb at 6:48 AM on December 9, 2011

Response by poster: (Ok, ok: Some recent non-structural but very heavy changes above my head, buildings may have collapsed in this neighborhood, some nonstructural ceiling stuff did recently collapse in another part of the building, it's a very old building, etc. I haven't seen any cracks, buckling, noises, etc.--but I wouldn't know what to look for. Now I will stop posting.)
posted by zeek321 at 6:50 AM on December 9, 2011

Response by poster: (By above my head I mean a floor above me.)
posted by zeek321 at 6:51 AM on December 9, 2011

Is there some sort of government agency that regulates how tenants are treated by their landlords and has the authority to force landlords to make needed repairs? I'd try reporting your concerns to them.
posted by orange swan at 6:52 AM on December 9, 2011

I would attribute the nonstructural ceiling collapse more to water damage, which is a separate issue.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on December 9, 2011

I would call a reputable contractor in your area, explain what you need, and ask if they do this kind of inspection. If they don't, they will know who does because they probably deal with them all the time.
posted by corey flood at 7:01 AM on December 9, 2011

Best answer: Seconding the water damage suggestion with regard to ceiling collapse. Water damage is certainly serious, but it's not going to kill you, unless you live in a Final Destination movie.

Link for Philly information about building licenses and inspection.

Hope it all works out.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:01 AM on December 9, 2011

Find a structural engineer or perhaps an architect to look at the building. It really doesn't need to be complicated.
posted by alms at 7:07 AM on December 9, 2011

Best answer: Some questions which will not necessarily alleviate your concerns, but are probably relevant to your situation.

- Is it a rowhouse?
- If Yes:
- What year was it built?
- Has it undergone any major renovations? Like what?
- Are both houses on either side of it still standing?
- If No:
- What kind of a structure is it?
- When was it built?

- Is there any major construction going on around your place?
- Has there been any atypical weather?
- When was it last inspected?

I think your inclination to keep the landlord friendly is a good one. (ie Don't go over his head to a city department and go raving about your building maybe not being up to code: that's a surefire way to make an enemy out of a landlord...) But if there has been a recent collapse nearby, you're well within your rights to just inquire about the last time an inspection was made and suggest that as the tenant you'd feel more comfortable if he had it inspected in light of recent events. It may be about time to get it inspected anyway.

I lived in a 200 year old row house in Chinatown near Reading Terminal and had plenty of water damage to the plaster which resulted in some bubbles and breaking. There was a dormant fireplace that had long since collapsed (which would have been a great place for structural integrity to start to erode!) but I lived there for a couple years with no incident.

I seem to remember the side sliding off a building in Washington West when I lived there. So structural problems with these old row houses is not impossible to imagine and, ultimately, not irrational on your part. For the most part, we're talking about very old structures which have had a variety of owners and most of which have NOT gotten the Society Hill/Rittenhouse Square treatment. I'd start by asking the landlord. If he says, "It was inspected a couple years ago, and isn't due for inspection until... X." Then you just need to decide if that's soon enough for you. It might not be, and then you might need to figure out whether you should go ahead and pay for the inspection yourself or volunteer to split the cost with him.

Barring all of that, you might try putting in a call to Community Legal Services. While you might not qualify for their services (hey, you might! if a couple hundred dollars will put the squeeze on you, they might be able to take you as a client and offer you actual legal advice about tenant's rights!), local legal aid organizations are usually pretty good about producing brochures that deal with tenant's rights. That might well include information on when inspections must be done, and under what circumstances you are entitled to request remedial repairs be made to the property for health and safety reasons.
posted by jph at 7:37 AM on December 9, 2011

Best answer: Just call a building/home inspector, the kind used when you buy a house. Some firms do residential and commercial spaces. Think Holmes on Homes from HGTV. A good one will recommend further inspections if he sees something unusual or thinks it warrants further inspection by another professional, i.e. roofing inspector, pest control or architectural engineer.

Public building inspectors or building records may not be adequate if changes, especially unauthorized changes, have been made to a structure. However, it would inform you as to whether the structure has a permit of occupancy and you'd be able to see all authorized construction records. These records can be reviewed with the building inspector.

When I was a realtor in San Francisco, there were numerous buildings with illegal apartments and mother-in-law units.
posted by shoesietart at 7:38 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would first verify that the work on the floor above you was coded and inspected. If it passed inspection, that would be enough to satisfy me.
posted by LeanGreen at 7:41 AM on December 9, 2011

Been there! Feel for you! The answers to my question had some very good and very reassuring explanations of ceilings and their reluctance to collapse.
posted by prefpara at 8:55 AM on December 9, 2011

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