The heat in the apartment isn't working properly, landlord isn't fixing
January 6, 2015 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Bonus: live in Minnesota. Also bonus: not my apartment, but my dear boyfriend's.

This is for him, although he isn't really asking for my help, but I'm just concerned. A month or so ago, his apartment got real cold, and the apartment heat was coming on intermittenly. His apartment heat is included in the paid utilities BUT I have hardly ever felt warm in there, nor has he or his roomie.
The thermostat is locked in a glass box and says it is set to 70, but it is freezing in their apartment. I cannot feel my toes sitting there long enough without some shoes and socks on. It just is uncomfortable. Sure, we can layer, but isn't that a little ridiculous?

Anyways, his landlord said a month ago that he would insulate the windows. Didn't happen. His landlord also said he would give my boyfriend a copy of the his lease but that didn't happen until a couple months after he moved in. The landlord is generally non responsive or really hard to get in contact with. I don't think he even gave a physical address to find him, just a phone number.

My boyfriend does not want to anger the landlord further with demands about things, so he and the roommate are going to mention the heat again nicely. I am going crazy because I want something to change, but of course I can't force him.

So my question: what can I do? I would like to collect information and scripts for the landlord should this escalate further and my boyfriend seeks help. (And also for my piece of mind as I'm becoming livid just thinking about the landlord.) I would super appreciate some materials on what he would have to do to get his heat fixed or what he is actually allowed to do. Are we in the wrong for asking? The landlord just gets more irritated it seems.

I am a student and have access to free student lawyer stuff, but not him, so they can't help him. I could just relay what they say at the most.

Thank you so much.
posted by buttonedup to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
One of the first things you should do is get an actual thermometer and find out what the temperature really is in the apartment.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:03 PM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Ditto getting a thermometer. Also, get a space heater and an electric throw to keep over there. Anything more and you risk emasculating your boyfriend. It's his place and he needs to deal with it in his own time.
posted by myselfasme at 8:07 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wisconsin has a state law that the minimum temperature must be 67 degrees in residential rental units. When we had cold weather in October and our (radiator) heat had not been turned on yet, I bought a digital thermometer and planned to take pictures. It felt very cold to me but I did not see the thermometer read below 67 (not saying this is the case with you, but I would buy the thermometer - $10 at Farm & Fleet - and take pictures of it).

Looks like Minnesota does not have a similar state law, but here is a comprehensive page of local ordinances and numbers to call. I would definitely have your boyfriend call his local municipality after getting a reading from the digital thermometer.
posted by desjardins at 8:08 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear things are so cold! In addition to the above suggestions: document everything, just in case.
posted by ageispolis at 8:09 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about angering the landlord. Your boyfriend is paying for services; it's the landlord's responsibility to provide what is paid for. His landlord certainly doesn't think of it as a personal relationship.

The MN AG has an online resource. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for MN, links to Home Line, which provides free legal help. Their site suggests that Minneapolis & St. Paul have a heating code that requires 68 degrees.
posted by JackBurden at 8:10 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

And no, you can't make your boyfriend call the city or call his landlord, but you can refuse to go to his apartment if you are too cold. If he doesn't respond positively to that, I guess we know what your question will be next week.
posted by desjardins at 8:11 PM on January 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

Ah yes. He did use a thermometer tonight, it read at 55 degrees. Which out loud doesnt seem too cold, but it feels so cold. So maybe he doesn't have any grounds to do anything.

@myselfasme not trying to emasculate him! I haven't said much to him or about this question. I'm just a worrywart. But he tried electric stove, a small one from Walmart. Unfortunately, when we turned it on it shut off the breaker? Or something like that, but the lights went off and it seemed to blow a fuse. We tried unplugging more things but that didn't help. It is an old building. I'll just suggest more layers then.
posted by buttonedup at 8:13 PM on January 6, 2015

Are we in the wrong for asking? The landlord just gets more irritated it seems.

It's entirely possible for your boyfriend to be legally right, but still end up in a worse-off situation if he pursues this. Many people are going to give you answers based in Minnesota law. However, the thing about tenant law is that it is not self-enforcing - it requires going to court to force your landlord to do anything or having a housing agency pick up your boyfriend's case (which is not particularly likely with underfunded public agencies). Your boyfriend's landlord could be legally in the wrong... but your boyfriend may still have nothing he can practically do about it.

The real question your boyfriend should be asking is how much heat is worth to him and how much his rent is compared to market rent. If your boyfriend's rent is significantly below market value, you may have just realized why - his landlord isn't interested in maintaining the property, and his landlord is making up for it by decreased rent. Alternatively, your boyfriend's rent my be significantly above market value, in which case it's a good idea to pester his landlord for a bit more service that he is paying for.

I've been in both scenarios (rent too high and rent too low), and it's a tricky game to play. Landlords are generally inclined to do as little as possible to maintain an apartment because excessive maintenance cuts into their bottom line. Landlords are also generally inclined to keep the least demanding tenants around, because those tenants are the most profitable.

Does your boyfriend have other apartment options available? If so, he should make that known to the landlord - ultimately that's the reason your landlord will do anything, because the law only obligates the landlord to do anything if your boyfriend takes the landlord to court (which is a good way for your boyfriend to make himself quite unattractive to future landlords). If this apartment option is great other than the heat issue, perhaps your boyfriend should consider some space heaters.
posted by saeculorum at 8:22 PM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Don't worry about "emasculating" him, that's... not a real thing.

My heat went out during the winter one year and I left about 30 voice messages on my landlord's answering machine and then escaped to my boyfriend's place for the night, but it sounds like your boyfriend and his roommate are at best mildly annoyed with the situation. If they don't care enough to fix it, or aren't assertive enough to do so, then there's not much you can do other than bring stuff with you to keep yourself warm (a space heater, electric blanket, etc.) or avoid going over until it's fixed. But they should not be afraid of pissing of their landlord, it sounds like said landlord is utterly terrible and they should be moving out ASAP and should educate themselves about local tenants' rights in the meantime.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:23 PM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

55 degrees is almost certainly too cold for a rental. I would use your access to law help to get info about tenants' rights where he lives.
posted by bleep at 8:33 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

55 Degrees is really cold and definitely below the state law requirement of 67 Degrees.

What is your boyfriend waiting for?
posted by jbenben at 8:41 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Temperature fact vs. temperature "feel" can be tricky. My last apartment (also in MN) was theoretically kept at roughly 68 - 70 degrees in the winter (via centrally-controlled steam heat). There was even a little thermometer tacked to the wall -- by the management company -- to prove this. And yet, it routinely felt wwaaayyyy colder than that; the windows were ancient and drafty, and it's hard to avoid sitting near a window in an efficiency apartment. My digits were often numb, and my girlfriends were often irritated with me/my situation. I estimate that there was at least a 30 degree difference between the "official" temp measuring spot in my unit, and other areas. It's possible that the landlord is legitimately under the impression -- based on where he's measuring -- that everything is fine in the apartment, too.

Negotiating with landlords -- even in terms of honoring the basic premise of the rental contract, i.e. a safe, functional apartment -- can be tricky, too. Your dude is not alone in feeling that he's on eggshells. There may be laws, but the risk to the tenant can outweigh the inconvenience of a slightly broken unit. I get this, believe me; as someone who used to be very much at the mercy of slumlords (bad jobs, bad life choices, eviction record, etc.), it can be really scary to stand up for yourself in this sort of situation.

That said, 55 degrees is not kosher. That meets the criteria for pestering a landlord.

MN has reasonable protections for tenants, relative to some other states. For instance, rent can be held in escrow until repairs are made, etc. His landlord knows this, as well as the relevant rules about apartment heating minimums; I suspect a firmly worded and documented complaint will start getting things fixed up.

But man, hold off on supplementing with a space heater, if you can. Not only are they a hassle in terms of an old building's grid (as you're learning), but they are insanely inefficient. If one must be run for safety/sanity's sake, then do it very sparingly.
posted by credible hulk at 8:50 PM on January 6, 2015

Okay maaaaybe I will relay what has all been said here to him, and he will do what he wants with the info. Hopefully he will gather courage and write a letter to the landlord or something. Or open up a ice rink in his apartment and get some extra cash on the side.
We are both from the most southern of the south states, so this is all new stuff. Thank you all for quick replies. If anyone else wants to add, please do.
posted by buttonedup at 9:02 PM on January 6, 2015

Is electricity included in the paid utilities? If so, space heaters. Also, you can buy window insulation kits at any hardware/Home Depot type store. They contain adhesive tape that you put around the window moulding and then put the plastic film on and shrink it with a hair dryer. If the windows are drafty, single pane windows, it can help a lot. I used to do it every winter when I lived in the upper Midwest.

Does the lock box over the thermostat have any holes? If it does, a paper clip or skewer can be very helpful in pushing buttons or dials.
posted by quince at 9:38 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hi, i lived in a building like this! in a state with nearly identical minimum temp laws(and city ordinances about how long a heating system could be broken, etc). My neighbor was a lawyer and took it all the way, against the management company.

It was completely pointless. Nothing ever really changed. They paid some fines, sorta changed/fixed some stuff, and the status quo drug on. He just kept at it since he was on a lease and didn't want to break it, and they kept doing the bare minimum to sort of heat the place for a bit then not, or bullshit their way through it, or whatever.

Your options are basically, seeing as how you already contacted the landlord and they were grumpy buttheads.

1. go to the city and try and fight them, and freeze in the meantime, and likely accomplish basically nothing. as i said, successful junior lawyer dude(not a student) with some free time accomplished basically nothing, and i've heard similar tales of woe from other places locally.

2. buy a space heater. there's plenty of safe non scary ones out there that are great at evenly heating a stupid drafty perpetually cold space(see this thread and this thread, and my comments therein about vornado heaters). note that if you're paying the electric this will likely piss away money. how much money depends on whether you want to heat the entire living room and such, or just the bedroom and hole up in there. I've tried and done both. Bedroom lair makes more logistical and monetary sense, but sucks when you have to go to the bathroom or something and reminds you why you hate the whole situation. I have had a 100% success rate with those vornado heaters making stupid drafty rooms nice and cozy, though. It's about all the air in the room being 70, not just some of it, and they're really good at stirring all the air.

3. just bust your way in to the thermostat/the box covering it somehow. my friend did this in a similar apartment, and just set it back whenever the landlord showed up and when they moved out. if the wire is on the exterior of the wall, it'll be a low voltage circuit and you could even do something like use solderless wire taps and hook up a second thermostat, so you wouldn't even have to change theirs(i'm completely serious by the way, fuck the system). You just snap them on to the wires, run another set of wires to your new thermostat, and bam. Snap them off when you move out and maybe paint over where it was snapped a tiny bit and ^_^

4. move

personally i'd do 1 and 3, but i'm also a crazy asshole. 1 and 2 or 1 and 4 are probably the Responsible Adult option, but hey, they said heat was included and they're not heating. if they tell you piss off, include some heat, hahahahaha.

In the meantime go to bed bath and beyond and see if they'll sell you a display model vornado heater. i got my mom the fanciest all metal super duper turbo model that's like $150 for like $35 that way, and i don't think it had ever even been turned on. As i said, 70 on those things means 70, not just 70 in the bubble of air around the heater. Thing heats my closet.
posted by emptythought at 10:59 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you ever hear the heater click on? Is it possible to put say an ice cube on the temperature gauge and see if that affects it? The solution if the there actually is heat and that control panel actually does something and isn't a dummy is to potentially coolnthe air around the sensor so that it kicks on.
posted by Carillon at 12:05 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was going to say basically the same thing that Carillon just wrote. Unless it's wired with remote sensors, which is very unlikely, the thermostat can only tell what the temperature is right at its own location. I'd freeze one of those blue ice packs used in coolers and set it on top of the thermostat enclosure. If that doesn't cause the heat to kick on after a little while then the thermostat might be broken.
posted by jon1270 at 3:14 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Minnesota doesn't have a state law on heating requirements but most cities do. This list is a bit old but they don't tend to change that often.
posted by limagringo at 4:22 AM on January 7, 2015

There are options:

1. Tell the landlord and tell him it's only 55 in the house. Advise that the next call is to 311 to talk to someone in the building inspection department. To look at the furnace AND the electrical system.

2. Tell the landlord and if no action is taken a suitable contractor will be called and the costs deducted from the rent.

I will say that if a space heater is throwing the circuit box that I'd be concerned about the electrical. It probably needs to be upgraded, and the whole place could potentially be a fire hazard.

But this is all on him. It's hard not to fix the BFs digs, but they're his, and his to deal with. If you're uncomfortable there, don't go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:30 AM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I second fucking with the thermostat (in a non-destructive way). My current apartment, with the thermostat in the center of said apartment set at 68, will keep the outer walls (as measured by infrared) at some point between 58 and 64 degrees depending on how cold it is outside. I can't imagine covering said thermostat with a plastic lock box would make it any better.

Also, what kind of heat is this? If it's radiator heat, it could just be that the radiator valve is not open, or some other thing that goes wrong with old radiators. You might be able to research that.
posted by pie ninja at 6:31 AM on January 7, 2015

Do you live with him?

If not -- not your apartment, not your problem, not your responsibility. If he wants to freeze his arse off, he's being an idiot, but that's his right. You, however, can take care of yourself. Refuse to visit his apartment if it is too cold. That should prompt him to do something about it, and if he doesn't, do you really want to date someone who has demonstrated a refusal to care that you're too cold, or doesn't care that you won't visit him in his apartment?

You can make suggestions to him to measure the temperature, and inform him about landlord/tenant laws about minimum temperatures. But, beyond that, as I said before: not your apartment, not your problem, not your responsibility.
posted by tckma at 8:12 AM on January 7, 2015

electric stove, a small one from Walmart
Please don't use a stove to try to heat a space! That can be dangerous. Use a space heater if you need one.

Tell the landlord and if no action is taken a suitable contractor will be called and the costs deducted from the rent.
Tenants can't just deduct things from the rent in Minnesota without going through the court system. This is the page for Hennepin county courts Tenant Actions. Use that page to find the court for your county and learn exactly what steps need to be taken if the landlord continues to ignore repair requests. Don't threaten to do things that are illegal.
Other helpful links:
Minnesota Attorney General's Landlord and Tenant Page
HomeLine - a nonprofit MN tenant advocacy org
Nolo's guide to "repair and deduct" in Minnesota.
posted by soelo at 8:32 AM on January 7, 2015

Ditto getting a thermometer. Also, get a space heater and an electric throw to keep over there. Anything more and you risk emasculating your boyfriend. It's his place and he needs to deal with it in his own time.

Emasculating your boyfriend! That's hilarious. Poor fragile male ego.

Thermometer, space heater, electric throw, even an electric mattress cover, wooly socks, and a fuzzy sweater are all items that would make things more comfortable. You can rest easy that they won't affect his manhood. You can use them, too.

It's his place and he needs to deal with it in his own time. Not to mention he's a capable adult with an intact and fully-functioning ego!
posted by BlueHorse at 11:34 PM on January 8, 2015

« Older Non-spoiler guide to classic books   |   Gravity fail Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.