How to deal diplomatically with zealous environmentalist landlady?
April 20, 2014 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Mrs. HeroZero and I just moved into a lovely new Chicago apartment about two months ago. However, our landlady (who lives on the third floor of this three-flat apartment building) has passionate environmentalist feelings. Though we share many aspects of her politics, it's made certain aspects of living here difficult.

  • The hot tap water comes out at no more than 91 degrees. Per section 13-196-420 of this ordinance, it's supposed to come out at 120 degrees. I measured it with an oral thermometer, so I'm not sure how accurate that is, but's cold.
  • Heat is included in the rent. Usually in Chicago, this means that the heat comes out of radiators, but this building has forced air with a thermostat. She has programmed the thermostat so we can only turn it up so high...I think it says sixty-nine degrees. In my last apartment, sixty-nine degrees felt a whole lot warmer than this.
  • The washer/dryer is in an uninsulated part of the basement and only uses cold water. I would be fine with only doing cold water washes, but limited googling seems to imply that even cold washes need hot water to work properly. One time in February, I forgot about a load and left it in the washer overnight, and it was frozen solid by morning.
When we have asked her to remedy the hot water, she says things along the lines of, "I turned it up. I haven't gotten any complaints from the people on the first floor apartment." In all honesty, I'm quite cold-blooded and am of a conflict-avoidant personality who would grin and bear all of this, while my wife is suffering a lot more because of it. She's ended up doing high energy-inefficient things (like boiling water for the bathtub) in order to cope. How can we deal diplomatically, fairly, energy-efficiently, and productively with this situation?
posted by HeroZero to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Chicagoan here.

I'm not sure that has anything to do with being eco-friendly. It just sounds like straight out passive-aggressive control freak weirdness.

I doubt anything you can say is going to change her ways. While you can talk to your alderman, perhaps the best thing is just to start looking for a new place.

Probably any move you make to try to reason with her, is just going to set her sterner in her ways.
posted by timsteil at 12:09 PM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

You've already tried to be diplomatic with her about the situation, and it hasn't worked out. You're going to need to be polite, but direct with her about these problems. You can reference the ordinance in conversation with her to try to address the tap water temperature issue, and maybe even take it up with whatever regulatory authority is responsible for policing these things in your area, but you have no leverage at all on the washer issue, short of threatening to move. And really, this sounds like a dealbreaker, if not for you, then for your wife, if it isn't resolved. You should be prepared to move if you can't finesse the situation with your landlord to your (and to your wife's) satisfaction.
posted by killdevil at 12:10 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your water can be dangerous. Would the landlord read that link, since it's to I'd guess there are laws against this -- have you already gone down that path to find legal recourse?
posted by Houstonian at 12:16 PM on April 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

I don't think there's much you can do about the heat, unless you think that it's actually colder than the thermostat says...have you checked with an outdoor thermometer? You could get extra space heaters and tell her that the environmental footprint is worse because she won't turn up the heat (unless the source of the forced air heat is also electric). The laundry doesn't seem like a huge issue to me...I always wash in cold water. Re the tap water, I'd try contacting a local tenants right org and see what they recommend.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:28 PM on April 20, 2014

Call the Metropolitan Tenants' Organization. These sound like issues that are interfering with your ability to live in reasonable comfort.
posted by Etrigan at 12:42 PM on April 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

91F for "hot" water is perfect breeding temperature for Legionella. That's why hot water has to be above 124F.

Besides that, none of these things sound particularly "environmentally conscious" - just cheap and/or control freak-ish. With modern water heaters' insulation, for normal hot-water activities, low water temperatures mean more of the water has to go through the heater. Instead of using 1 gal/min of regular hot water and 1 gal/min of cold, you'll use 2 gal/minute of lukewarm water through the heater - not really effecting much savings at all.
posted by notsnot at 12:43 PM on April 20, 2014 [15 favorites]

I not sure that your landlady is taking your concerns seriously if you have been meek and "diplomatic" in voicing your complaints. She probably thinks she can just brush you off and you'll eventually shut up about it. You need to get angry about this and you need to tell her it is not okay to have cold water and a freezing apartment. Tell her about the exact temperatures. Also, where is the thermostat reader located in your apartment? I live in Chicago as well, and was told repeatedly by my landlord that it's 80 degrees in my apartment, but then when we both looked we found that the temperature reader was located in a tiny 5 foot hallway above the front door, farthest away from any windows, from the ground, and in a little nook that is warm and free from drafts. Of course we realized right away that this was not an accurate reading of what the apartment feels like. Maybe yours in also placed in an odd place and that's why it does not feel like 69 degrees to you? Your landlord probably has no idea that you're angry or that you would move because of this. She's just trying to get all that she can get (and I'm also doubtful that this has environmental motivations).
posted by Blitz at 12:58 PM on April 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah, fuck diplomatic. She's playing you for a mook.

You're playing rent, and you have enforceable, legal rights as a tenant. Seconding the MTO/tenants rights org suggested up-thread. Taking her to court and forcing her by way of legal consequences is the only way you deal with control freaks like this. You let them push you around and you end up getting pushed around.

Stop talking and start serving papers.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:00 PM on April 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

Seconding Metropolitan Tenant's Org. They are wonderful wonderful people and know their stuff. Where I work uses them all the time to resolve issues. Also, don't hesitate to call 311 for code violations, including the hot water, but especially the heat. They will bring somebody over and test it (eventually), and if it is against code your LL will get a nice letter and possibly a fine. Test it first to make sure your not bothering the cities time.
But of course if your landlord is troublesome, it may be worth it to move when your lease is up. If the violations are egregious enough (the hot water may be, but that's a question for MTO) you can break your lease easily without fear of repercussions provided you follow the correct paperwork.
Chicago is extremely tenant friendly. The law is on your side here.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:10 PM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

"I haven't gotten any complaints from the people on the first floor apartment."

"You are, however, getting a complaint from the people in the second floor apartment."

Don't let people walk over you like this.
posted by ook at 1:16 PM on April 20, 2014 [29 favorites]

Nthing the above advice to contact the tenant's union. Also: Document everything in writing. Write down when you last talked to the landlord about the problems and any time before that - time/date/place and reconstruct the conversations as you remember them. Write down the temperatures you've recorded.

All correspondence with your landlord should be on paper. Email/text/spoken conversations (unless she initiates) are harder to substantiate b/c she can fake ignorance or say it happened in a different way. Good luck.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 1:28 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

none of these things sound particularly "environmentally conscious"

I disagree. They're all environmentally beneficial-- washing laundry in cold water, for example, is (depending on specifics, of course) the equivalent of avoiding a 9-mile drive in a non-hybrid car.

That's not to say that you shouldn't be comfortable, because you should, and there should be a balance between environmental considerations and your rights. But from an energy point of view, yes, all of these things do benefit the environment, some fairly significantly.
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:42 PM on April 20, 2014

Your landlady sounds a bit nutty on the issue, so I don't know how amenable she'd be to this argument, but perhaps you could point out the outdoor temperature definitely affects how cold your cold/warm laundry cycles are.

I remember reading somewhere that in a very cold winter climate you actually need to use the warm cycle, NOT the cold, to get the minimum temp needed to clean your clothes properly. It's not an issue in more temperate climates, but I would imagine it could be in a Chicago winter. I live in a cold climate, and although the cold wash cycle is fine during the spring and summer, in the dead of winter (i.e. once it gets below -10 C outside) we have to use warm.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:20 PM on April 20, 2014

I quickly scanned the replies, and don't think I saw anyone noting what seems perfectly obvious to me: landlady is a cheapskate and the enviro stuff is just justification.

Everything she's doing is, just incidentally, saving her a bundle of money while creating an uncomfortable living situation for you that is (depending on local law, like the one you looked up) potentially illegal.

I'd treat it as such and forget the pretenses when dealing with the situation. This reply: " I haven't gotten any complaints from the people on the first floor apartment." was just totally obnoxious and unreasonable, and would cause me to take my gloves off.
posted by Quisp Lover at 3:01 PM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Talk to the folks at Met or look up your issues at ILAO or call CARPLS. These places will have accurate information about your rights, as well as accurate information about your responsibilities in seeking to enforce your rights. They will also have some of the best possible advice about how to approach the situation to resolve things smoothly. CARPLS has income qualification guidelines, but they do sliding scale (i.e., if you did not qualify for free legal services, you could get services at a fee based on your income). ILAO's guides in some areas are so comprehensive, that local attorneys use them when they're unfamiliar with an area of law.

None of us can really know whether your landlady is misguided about the environmental benefits of her choices or using it as a smokescreen for being cheap with her utility costs. Neither is particularly relevant if she is failing to provide hot water at minimum safe/legal levels nor if she is failing to provide adequate heat in the winter.

You've complained but don't feel your complaints have been remedied and are not sure your complaints will even be taken seriously. It's a good time to check with landlord-tenant professionals to see how best to proceed.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:12 PM on April 20, 2014

Just to echo what notsnot said, I had a landlady who did all the same things and did not give a shit at all about the environment, she was just saving herself money. She also tried to forbid me from parking my car in the building's parking lot, and force me to park on the street, because she didn't like it that the clunker I drove while paying her rent tended to leak oil.
posted by XMLicious at 3:35 PM on April 20, 2014

Why not get some cheap thermometers, place them around the apartment, and start noting the measured temperatures? You can do the same with the water. Keep a log, send it to her, and include the health and tenants' rights information noted above. "The other people haven't complained" woudn't be a very convincing answer to "Here are the numbers we actually measured". If she wants, she can come, bring her own thermometers, and check various temperatures herself.
posted by amtho at 4:10 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dunno about your area, but in the states I have lived in, one would call a health inspector, get them to verify the issue and tell/cite landlady to fix the water temperature problem.
posted by zippy at 6:58 PM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

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