No working shower for a week+ in new apartment. Am I entitled to rent reduction?
January 1, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

New apartment has no working shower for 7+ days. Leasing office manager is being iffy about rent reduction. What are my rights in California?

My lease started on 12/23, but didn't move in until 12/28. I discovered there was no hot water in the shower pipe, so after a day of the maintenance guy trying to fix it, they said the plumber wouldn't get here until 1/3 due to the holidays. They gave me a key to an empty apartment and said I could shower there. I told him the apartment is not fully habitable and a rent reduction is in order. He's saying it is habitable because I can use the stupid empty apartment. He's being iffy and saying "he'll talk to the management company, but..."

What can I do legally? (It's a big complex, not a private rental property, FYI)

Also, if I legally qualify for reduction, would I be discounted for the entire lease period or just the days that I was physically here to use the shower?

The place had a bunch problems in the beginning too, like leaks under the bath sink and kitchen sink, unfinished tile work, etc., which they took care of first day. I don't know if that's relevant but thought it was worth mentioning.
posted by elif to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
What? No. Tell the maintenance guy you'll be talking not only to the management company but the owners of the building yourself if he doesn't do his job. The only plumbers that aren't available until 1/3 are the shitty ones who do the kind of work you've witnessed so far, so I'd seriously think about getting out of your lease and finding another place if possible. If not, be vigilant and don't take any guff and document everything w/pictures if possible. Just in case.
posted by rhizome at 9:34 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, you'll be talking to the owners of the complex.
posted by rhizome at 9:36 AM on January 1, 2012

Seconding "talk to the owners," who might have some rather harsh things to say about just handing a tenant a key to an empty apartment. (Liability, much?) Beyond that, you might want to point them to the CA laws about what makes an apartment habitable or uninhabitable, which do not have an out clause for "the neighboring apartment's plumbing works just fine."
posted by thomas j wise at 9:43 AM on January 1, 2012

You will probably have the best luck figuring out what the landlord/tenant law is by interacting with the local tenant's union. Here is a list of some CA tenant organizations. Here is a link to the California Department of Consumer Affairs' landlord/tenant page and here is the guidebook they print.

My read, and I am not a lawyer or other tenant expert [just a frequent tenant and sometimes landlord], is that you'll need to go the "repair and deduct" path if they're being sketchy and an actual rent reduction may not be in the cards. In short, there are legal ways of working out the lack of hot water [withholding rent, repair and deduct, etc], and a rent reduction situation is a way the property people mitigate your unhappiness, not something they're legally bound to do as part of this back and forth. They are legally bound to fix the problem. And if you start looking for rent reduction for days you weren't even living there, that looks ... weird. Check this page for more specifics.

Yes, they need to repair it. Yes you should not take "uhhh it's a weekend" as an excuse. Yes you should follow up with the property manager and the landlords [certified mail is best]. I'd skip the other issues, leaks, whatever and work on getting this problem fixed and then working out the "what do they need to do to make this right with you" aspect as a secondary issue.
posted by jessamyn at 9:44 AM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

remember that when you move into a new apartment there's always things that need to be fixed. also in arguing your case i'd also point out that washing dishes without hot water is also a serious annoyance.
posted by lester at 9:46 AM on January 1, 2012

California is a large state and although there are state laws governing rental housing, there may also be laws at the county or city level. And there are city and county agencies to go to for help.

Having hot and cold running water and sewage is definitely part of what makes an apartment habitable. Unless you live in a place in the middle of nowhere there are plumbers available 24/7/365. The plumber the complex prefers to use just isn't available until 1/3. What I would have said back on 12/28 when it didn't work was I'd use the vacant unit for two days (sucks but falls into reasonable) and if they didn't have it fixed by then, I'd hire my own plumber to fix it and deduct it from my rent.

As far as a rent reduction goes, usually it would only be for the time you were inconvenienced. But the tenant rights organization or a lawyer would be more specific.

This is a really shitty way for the landlord to start off with you and should give you pause on continuing to live there and look for ways to get out of your lease. What will happen the next time something breaks?

On preview, talking to the owners sounds great but every large apartment complex I've lived at are owned by investment firms and insurance companies in faraway places. I have no idea who owns the building I live in now (it is a rich lady in La Jolla but any problems I have get fixed ASAP by a management company that over delivers ) but rather than speaking to the owner, escalating it from the onsite to the head office of the management company would be the path to go. Don't be an asshole but be firm and direct about getting this matter settled and expressing your displeasure so far with living in the building.
posted by birdherder at 9:56 AM on January 1, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, the "owner" is a large property company. I'm in LA. Clarification: only the shower does not have hot running water. The rest of the place is fine. I'm told it's the main pipe to the shower that is blocked.

I'd rather not move out / break the lease... this move was stressful enough as is.
posted by elif at 10:09 AM on January 1, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry - I take that back; it's not a large company, but a small one that manages a lot of properties. Just found their website.
posted by elif at 10:13 AM on January 1, 2012

I realize it'd be a pain in the neck, but if this other unit is okay, what about a permanent move into it: at your current lease/rent if it's larger than the no-hot-shower unit, or at a permanently reduced rate if its smaller? Since it sounds like your current unit is just gonna be a neverending headache.....
posted by easily confused at 10:24 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not in your state, am not a lawyer, and am not a landlord.

My understanding is that as far as the "habitable conditions" are concerned, the fact that they are giving you access to a working shower while yours is out of service is how they avoid you doing a "repair and deduct" of any kind. You would only be able to do this on the days in which you are occupying the apartment which did not have hot water in the shower. But because they gave you access to another shower, I think you'd have a hard time successfully being able to deduct something out of your month rent for this inconvenience -- and I think that's why they're not having a plumber come in until the 3rd. This, to them, is not an emergency. (whether the owners would stand behind the maintenance guy's assessment of the situation at such, is iffy.)

And also, I don't think that not having running hot water in your shower only legally qualifies for the apartment being uninhabitable or for you to do a repair and deduct - it sucks, but it does not really impact your health or safety (especially since they gave you access to another shower.)

On the flip side, you should definitely call, email, and otherwise document your displeasure. The owners might just do some sort of pro-ration for the inconvenience.
posted by sm1tten at 10:58 AM on January 1, 2012

The owners might just do some sort of pro-ration for the inconvenience.

I'll bet both the owners and the management company (if different...not clear) have no idea what the maintenance man is doing here. From the story offered, he would appear to relish his assumed authority, but maybe not so much once his boss knows what's going on.
posted by rhizome at 11:54 AM on January 1, 2012

Response by poster: In case anyone is still reading this or interested, thomas j wise provided this helpful link:

"Conditions that make a rental unit legally uninhabitable

...In addition to these requirements, each rental unit must have all of the following:

A working toilet, wash basin, and bathtub or shower. The toilet and bathtub or shower must be in a room which is ventilated and allows privacy."

I contacted the leasing office manager and he said I would be compensated after he talks to his supervisor. Fingers crossed.
posted by elif at 12:17 PM on January 1, 2012

Yes of course, nobody is willing to exercise responsibility so everybody has to talk to someone else. Get the names of these people so you don't have to keep waiting for someone to make a decision the next time something like this occurs.
posted by rhizome at 1:46 PM on January 1, 2012

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