I want to stay, but I want my house cleaned up.
January 14, 2013 9:07 PM   Subscribe

What home improvements are reasonable to ask of my landlord ? (Snowflakey details inside)

In a pinch, I took a room in a 3 bedroom house in Pittsburgh (neighborhood is Manchester) and signed a 4 month lease. Two of the three renters wanted to move out and were allowed to break the lease if they could find people to replace them. The landlord lives in New Jersey but apparently has family around the Pittsburgh area who can help out with the place. My lease is up in 2.5 months and I have to decide whether to move or not. The house is conveniently .3 miles from my work; I only pay $360/mo., and saving money is a big priority right now. I find my third floor room and bathroom set up cozy. And the thought of moving everything all over again is admittedly exhausting.

However, the house is a bit of a dump. My biggest complaint is that the (originally white) carpets have significant stain marks on every floor. It's embarrassing when I have company. The dishwasher isn't working. The paint needs fixing on various floors, though I'm less concerned here. There are missing rungs on the stair banisters. The blinds in the front room are crumpled....the list of small issues goes on.

I knew that the carpets weren't great when I moved into the place, but is it reasonable to ask our landlord to get them cleaned once they get to a certain point? As a point of function, it's fine to expect a landlord to fix a dishwasher, but what's the rule of thumb about aesthetics such as carpet or paint? My tentative plan is just to call or email my landlord and explain that I would like to resign a lease in March, but only if he is able to make certain basic improvements to the condition of the house that seem fair considering other houses in the area. I believe he'd prefer to have me stay than have to look for and vet a new tenant, though this could be wrong. I'd welcome any etiquette or strategic advice that people have.
posted by sb3 to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
What caused the stains? I think normally it's reasonable for the landlord to fix 'wear and tear' but if you/your housemates are spilling food on the carpet, etc, then it's your own problem to fix.
posted by jacalata at 9:21 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you sure that the landlord isn't going to consider the dirt and such something that you're responsible for?

For the carpets, I'd probably just rent a steam cleaner and ask the landlord to pay for it. The dishwasher is definitely his responsibility, but only if your lease includes the dishwasher (it's not required). The banister is probably a safety issue and should be addressed.

It mostly depends on your relationship with the landlord. Your priorities are your priorities, and your landlord can probably rent cheaply to someone else, so it's usually a matter of choosing your battles. My landlord resurfaced the tub for me when I moved in, but I'd been renting another property from him for two years before that.
posted by xingcat at 9:22 PM on January 14, 2013

Thanks, no the stains are something I photographed and wrote an email to him about when we first moved in. And they're clearly quite old.
posted by sb3 at 9:25 PM on January 14, 2013

i don't think there's an elaborate strategy needed here, just a straightforward account of what you've told us. i want to stay, but these carpets etc. are a fright. you won't have to sell him on the idea, he'll know in .5 seconds whether he wants to do it or not.
posted by facetious at 9:43 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to be a small-time landlord. Make it easy. Landlord, the carpets are dirty. The dirt is bad for the carpet(it is) and makes the place less desirable to good tenants. I'd like to arrange to have XYZ company clean them. It will cost XX. The living room blinds are wrecked. Replacements from Target are XX. The dishwasher isn't working. I'd be happy to arrange for ABC company to come out and do an estimate; it will cost XX, applicable to the repair cost. If you have a preferred appliance repair shop, let me know. May I deduct these expenses from next month's rent?
posted by Mom at 10:09 PM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

You can ask, but I wouldn't bet on an enthusiastic response. White carpets in a shared rental are a losing battle. The landlord probably figures it's not worth a lot of effort or expense to clean them, because they'll just get nasty again in short order. Replacing them is expensive, so he does nothing. I doubt you'll do better than getting the landlord to pay the $30 it costs to rent a carpet machine so you can clean them (sorta) yourself.

The landlord lives in New Jersey but apparently has family around the Pittsburgh area who can help out with the place.

"Has family who can help" can be translated as 'won't pay market rate for labor --> fantasizes that family will help out of the goodness of their hearts --> family has no real incentive --> little gets done.'

I suspect you'll do best where the improvements can be a win-win for you and the landlord, i.e. they rent the carpet cleaner, you contribute labor and the apartment is improved for cheap. They buy paint, you apply it and the apartment is improved for cheap.
posted by jon1270 at 2:35 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been in a similar situation. I would certainly ask about the dishwasher-- it seems like it might be detrimental to have it broken; what if there's a water leak or another big problem? I would suggest a trade for the cost of renting the steam cleaner for your time in cleaning the rugs. (Alternatively, you could just get area rugs in a color other than white.) You could also try that with the paint. The bannister is something they really should fix, although it's possible that replacements are easily come by through Home Depot or another source. We've had the best luck with deducting the costs from our rent checks and just including all possible receipts.

We've been doing this for similar cosmetic-but-important things and saved the bigger battles for appliance replacements/storm windows/mouse control, which has worked out really well! Landlords are often looking to keep reasonable, well-behaved tenants, although granted it sounds like he's written off this apartment as a bit of a loss already. If he promises that family members are "doing the work" or "working on it next week," follow up with them. It's infuriating to discover that the reason you don't have X important thing is because the brother-in-law is studying to take a car mechanic's test and hasn't bothered to contact you in the intervening two weeks.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:54 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

For the paint, you could try requesting a can of touch-up paint of whatever color.

For the carpets, you may be able to get a cleaning out of him; otherwise, could you put rugs down in your area? In a pinch, for sub-$50 you can rent a steam cleaner from a grocery store for a day.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:52 AM on January 15, 2013

I work for a large property management company so I can't do things like allow you to deduct things from your rent, but for a guy who owns one house and self manages this should be easier. Just make sure you've got documentation in writing! Mom's advice above is good about how to approach him.

I will advise you to hire a carpet cleaner because a truck mounted cleaner does a much better job than a grocery store machine. Pros can get out very bad stains and even dye the carpet if it's too far gone (but still intact - no rips, wear spots.)
posted by vespabelle at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2013

Thanks, everyone. This helps to shape and affirm my sense of what's reasonable to ask for and what I can expect.
posted by sb3 at 8:42 PM on January 15, 2013

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