Renters' Rights After Burst Water Heater in Apt Across the Hall
May 11, 2012 4:20 PM   Subscribe

About three weeks ago, we moved into a fantastic new apartment; we are renting. Last Friday, the water heater in the apartment across the hall burst causing extensive damage to our apartment. What are our rights with respect to rent and reasonable expectations regarding quality of life following this incident? Extended explanation inside.

My partner and I moved into a new apartment in the middle of last month. It's a wonderful apartment and we were just settling in. Last Friday, the water heater in the apartment across the hall burst.

Initially, it did not appear that there had been much damage to our unit. The next day, we realized that there had been a lot more than we had thought initially. A number of our still unpacked boxes had a lot of water damage (we were able to save everything in them and are not worried). We have been in constant touch with owner of the apartment whom we respect deeply and who is very diligent.

At the owner's request, a water remediation company came in last Saturday night and removed a foot of wall around the front door, front closet, and in the living room to dry everything out. When they arrived, we moved all of remaining boxes as well as other unpacked items into the middle of the living room, rendering our eating and relaxing area useless.
They installed 10 industrial strength air movers and 2 dehumidifiers and left at 2 am on Sunday morning. The air movers lived with us until Wednesday; since our apartment is a single room neither of us slept very much from Saturday night through Wednesday because the air movers were quite unlike white noise. For the owner's insurance purposes, we were asked not to turn the air movers off and did not, until the owner gave us permission to turn them off while we slept.

Yesterday, the water remediation company came back and pulled up much of the floor, installed a heavy duty plastic sheet with air holes in it and installed both a fan and dehumidifier to dry out the ground under the floor.
We've been told that this equipment will be here until Monday.

It's still undetermined whether or not they're going to pull up the entire floor and install new flooring. In the interim, our move-in process has pretty much come to a halt, we can't use our kitchen or living area because of the equipment (the water is draining into the kitchen sink currently), and we are exhausted. My husband has missed or partially attended work twice this week because he's had to be here to let the workers in. Next week, he will likely have to be at home for two days—for the owner to come and inspect the damage and for the pickup of this latest round of equipment.

I understand and respect the fact that the owner wants to take care of her apartment; this is far preferable than our previous landlord who was not up to the task of maintaining his property. On the other hand, we are both operating on very little sleep, are no closer to being completely unpacked and settled in than we were at this time last week. We won't be any closer at the end of the weekend.

Because we moved in mid-month, we are nearing the time when we will be paying the landlord half of one months rent (until June 1st when we pay for the whole month). While I am completely fine paying for the blissful first two weeks we had here, it seems a bit curious to pay the full rental amount for the last week (and however long this goes on for). As tenants, what are our rights in this regard? As people who very much want to have a good relationship with our new landlord, will we be putting that in jeopardy by suggesting the possibility of reduced rent? Is it possible that the landlord's insurance policy would cover lost rental income if there was was damage in the apartment that rendered it difficult (but not impossible) to be lived in?
posted by JuniorBCat to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
You do not specify your jurisdiction, but does your municipality have a landlord/tenant organisation you can contact? With the amount of work you are describing I am wondering if the apartment is legally habitable, you might be entitled to stay elsewhere on the landlord's dime until the situation is resolved.
posted by saucysault at 4:27 PM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: Hi saucysault, sorry: we're in Brooklyn, NY. I did call 311 (the City), and ask what our rights are. They told me that by law the owner has to maintain an apartment in livable condition. If the owner is not making needed repairs (which I think the owner is, just slower than I'd like), I can file a complaint with the Department of Housing, who will send someone to investigate. That seemed like a kind of bad idea, and I don't think the owner is being negligent (owner lives in another state), it's just that it's hard to try to live in the apartment right now.
posted by JuniorBCat at 4:38 PM on May 11, 2012

Can you ask your landlord to put you up in a hotel until the floor is relaid? That seems like a reasonable compromise.
posted by fshgrl at 5:17 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I asked for, and got, a reduction in rent when I had a not-immediately-reparable ceiling leak last winter. My landlord is a nice guy who I have a continuing good relationship with, and I'm sure he wasn't *happy* to be knocking money off my rent in addition to paying for roof and ceiling repairs, he recognized that I was making a reasonable request.

I think that asking your landlord if he is willing to reduce the rent is the logical first step (unless you really feel that the place is uninhabitable and you need to move to a hotel/stay with friends/whatever).
posted by mskyle at 5:21 PM on May 11, 2012

Um, I have had two apartment floods. I have dealt with the constantly blowing humidifiers. You can't make food in your place. You can't use your living room. They will probably have to replace floors and walls if it's bad enough (sounds like it is if they took out wall). Your place is technically not habitable just because your bedroom works. This is the kind of situation where I had to go find another place to stay for weeks or months.

At the very least, your landlord should probably not be charging you rent as long as you cannot live in the place. In my cases, I got discounted rent because I found someone to stay with or had the insurance to stay in a motel, but my roommate had her motel paid for (no insurance or place to go that took her pets). But unless you have zero rental insurance (um, let me tell you, GO GET IT) and have nowhere else to go and no friends to stay with, you probably shouldn't be living there until ALL of the fixing is done. Depending on the damage, that may take awhile.

You seriously need to talk to your landlord about this. At the very least, you shouldn't be paying rent for a place that isn't liveable right now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:59 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When you talk to your landlord about reducing the rent (and I agree you should), bear in mind that in many (most?) jurisdictions, your rental insurance should be covering a lot of the expenses here. If you don't have rental insurance and the landlord is covering stuff that usually would come out of yours, you are quite lucky, and they may be unwilling to reduce the rent much in light of that.

For example here and in two other countries I have lived in, rental insurance, NOT owner's insurance, would be responsible for the carpets, curtains, repainting, furniture, and obviously all your own stuff after a flood or fire. Even though the owner provided the flooring, curtains, and paint. So double check this stuff before talking to the owner to make sure where you stand.
posted by lollusc at 8:56 PM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the insights and an update: We spoke to the landlord who agreed to the reduce our rent by 50% for the duration of this process. Our renters' insurance will cover the cost of staying in a motel/hotel for a few days while the floor is replaced.

While the cost of the hotel will go against our deductible, our insurance will subrogate the claim to the insurance company of the person across the hall (the one whose water heater burst) along with any other costs that the insurance has to cover.
posted by JuniorBCat at 3:57 PM on May 16, 2012

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