How do you complain to your landlord the right way?
June 29, 2016 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I got stuck in the elevator of my apartment for ~30 minutes today. It has been acting weird for months so I put in a maintenance request and called our office to say it needed to be fixed because we're all scared we will be stuck one day. This was a couple of months ago that I complained. I don't know if it was ever fixed. Well, now I actually got stuck in it!

I have horrible anxiety so I had a near panic attack being stuck. The emergency call box didn't even work!! The lights were still on in the elevator, but no buttons would work and it wouldn't move from the outside. The call box lights would come on if you held it long enough, but once you let go, it wouldn't work at all. After holding it for a few minutes, I knew it wouldn't connect. I had to resort to pounding the doors and screaming for help until someone happened to walk by and call 911 and my roommate for me. The fire department came and let me out eventually.

While I'm glad I don't have asthma or hypoglycemia or something that might've made me panic more if I was stuck in the elevator for longer, I am so mad! Mad that our elevator emergency call box doesn't work, and mad that they may never had even tried to fix it. The elevator had been opening at wrong floors, jolting down so you trip when you get in, and flickering lights for a few months. Then would act normal for a month or so. It would cycle through your ability to trust, basically. My roommates have also sent in their own phone calls for complaint. They may have tweaked it a bit, but I've never known it to be actually fixed or act normal for a long period of time.

I want to send in a formal complaint but I don't know if I even should. I mean *now* they know they have to fix it now that someone actually got stuck, but I find that sort of ridiculous. Maybe they expect the apartment never to use it again if it acts funny off and on, but not everyone can take the stairs. The apartment is near a college campus so we're mostly students and I don't think they expect us to complain.

Should I send a formal email about it to my landlords? Or a letter? I feel like an email is quicker. If so, what should I say, any script ideas? If not... well, I guess anyone have some tips or products they can suggest for lugging heavy items or laundry up and down 6 flights of stairs?
posted by buttonedup to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call the city regulators, tell them what happened, they will fine him. Don't speak to the landlord and move out if you can.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:48 PM on June 29, 2016 [37 favorites]

One thing that might help get results would be not to frame it so much as a "complaint", but as letting them know about something that needs to be taken care of. Or as a person who is trying to bring about a specific tangible result.

"I got stuck in the elevator for half an hour yesterday. It needs to be fixed/you should call the elevator maintenance people/etc." works a lot better than "I got stuck in the elevator yesterday and almost had a panic attack! The maintenance in this building is terrible! If someone got stuck in there who had hypoglycemia, they could die!"

Re this:

The elevator had been opening at wrong floors, jolting down so you trip when you get in, and flickering lights for a few months. Then would act normal for a month or so.

How sure are you that the landlord never did anything about the problems? A lot of old apartment buildings have temperamental elevators that break a lot. It's entirely possible that the elevator was acting up, then it was fixed, but then it broke again. Or even that this has been an ongoing pattern. It may be something that is outside your ability to change about your building. Not to let the landlord off the hook (the call box should work at least!), but I lived in a building with an elevator that was constantly breaking down, and I never got the idea that it was because the landlord was a terrible person who wanted people to be inconvenienced or endangered.
posted by Sara C. at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2016

Report to the city - call 311 if you still live in the city on your profile, because they should be able to keep track of what happens as a result of your complaint. Be sure to let them know the fire department came, so that the record is complete.

Personally, I'd move, but I'm also stupid enough to have deliberately read extensively about elevator mishaps (I do not recommend doing that.)
posted by SMPA at 2:58 PM on June 29, 2016

"How sure are you that the landlord never did anything about the problems?"

I'm not very sure because I can't be around the apartment 24/7. Perhaps it did get fixed and then broken, but hopefully they can tell me this with the email? I just ran into my neighbor and she complained of the same thing a month ago, where she got stuck in the elevator for about 5 minutes. She sent in a maintenance request and gave a phone call like me, but never received any follow-up. We're not owed follow-up of course, but I can't tell if this is something acting up or they haven't fixed it. I've lived here for a year and a half though and the apartment is not old. It was built around 2002. Only a few months ago has the elevator started doing this...
posted by buttonedup at 2:59 PM on June 29, 2016

Oh, and when you make maintenance requests in the future, do it in writing rather than over the phone. Having written records is important, especially if you decide this is worth breaking a lease over.
posted by SMPA at 2:59 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

And sorry, last note. I am moving out in August. But I just want to be in the books that it really needs to be fixed.

Call the city regulators
Report to the city - call 311

So, you're saying call them directly, don't even bother with emailing the landlords?
posted by buttonedup at 3:00 PM on June 29, 2016

Here, elevators require licenses -- does your area have anything like that...? (That page even has a "Report an Incident or Safety Violation" link.) Elevators have a little standardized frame displaying the relevant info -- last inspection, etc.
posted by kmennie at 3:01 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

Yes call 311. If your landlord cared it would have been fixed already
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:02 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Always make maintenance requests in writing. None of my landlords have ever done jack about any problem until I sent a letter. Even the nice ones.
posted by tealcake at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ah, ok lied about that being my last note. But our apartment takes maintenance requests through an online form. I'm not sure if that counts as writing? They don't take it any other way. I thought that I would get more help if after I submitted the form, I would call the front office. But I will keep in mind to keep doing the online or written requests though.
posted by buttonedup at 3:07 PM on June 29, 2016

Landlords here have to publicly display notices, and after having to check elevator certificates for a few years, I can tell you that no one important in Chicago pays attention unless something goes wrong. Sometimes offices keep them in a file, but it suppose to be displayed in the elevator. If you take a peak inside the certificate should have the date of last inspection and the date it expires.

Just by the fact that the emergency call box wasn't working, I'm going to assume it is out of date. Honestly about 75 percent of the elevators I use residentially inspections are out of date.

Commercial elevators are much better about inspections
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Elevators tend to be highly regulated for obvious reasons. Look up your locality's laws and lodge a complaint with the regulatory board. The 911 call may have already caused one.

For what comfort it might give you, failing elevators are very safe, as long as you stay put.
posted by Candleman at 3:14 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

The thing about having it in writing is so that you have a copy for yourself, with the date you sent it. If that form automatically sends you a confirmation with what you said, great! If not, send via the form and also send a letter that says "on such-and-such date, I sent the following request via your form at [website]." This is pedantic and overkill, but it's good enough for the purpose of keeping track of exactly what you said when. If you really want to make a point of it, send via certified mail. If you really hate them, send it by fax and CC someone else on the mailing. CCing a lawyer is a defcon 1 move.
posted by SMPA at 3:23 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I would probably passive-aggressively put a sign on every floor saying the emergency phone in the elevator doesn't work. That's a serious safety issue unto itself.
posted by a strong female character at 3:24 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

Here is the link to MN's evelvator codes and state regulation numbers.

I would call especially if the evelvator has not been shut down for repairs.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:35 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by buttonedup Should I send a formal email about it to my landlords? Or a letter? I feel like an email is quicker. If so, what should I say, any script ideas?

1: Write a letter like this:

Hello (name of maintenance person and building superintendent)

Starting in January, I submitted to both you and the main office several maintenance requests regarding a dangerously malfunctioning elevator. I reported several issues requiring your immediate attention, including but not limited to:

Inoperative call box
Doors opening at incorrect floors
Jolting travel
Flickering/malfunctioning buttons

Despite my repeated requests, I did not receive any updates or announcements with regards to whether the elevator had been inspected or repaired.

Earlier today, I was trapped for over half an hour and I needed to be rescued by the fire department when the elevator again malfunctioned. Because of the inoperative call box, I was not able to call for help.

Your failure to address the aforementioned issues and your inability to maintain the elevator's safe operation is a threat to life safety and an actionable violation of state law and city codes. Please be advised I have contacted the appropriate City agencies to provide further information and depositions as needed. Attached are the maintenance requests I made during the past six months.

Regards, Buttonedup


2: Attach copies of your maintenance requests and any correspondence they provided.
3: Send it to the building management, the building owners, the City Manager's office, the Office of Labor, and the Fire Department. You can find the appropriate agency contact numbers here, here, and here.
4: Write a brief description of what happened and send it to the local student paper and the Minneapolis Patch. Newspapers might like a story with the headline, "Student trapped in elevator after building management ignores maintenance."

It's okay to be angry. I would be, too.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:52 PM on June 29, 2016 [33 favorites]

I understand you are trying to keep a reasonable perspective on this, but this is not an annoying slow drain in the kitchen, or even a sticky door that you are trying to get repaired.
My attitude is that I am a renter and it is my responsibility to fix what I can, report what I can't, and have patience with the landlord.

When my smoke alarm battery died, I figured out how to change the battery.
When the sewer backed up, I assumed that no one else had reported it and did so.
For an elevator that is supposed to have an occupancy certificate and is instead inoperable?
--I would have called/online reported it to the landlord once and then again the next day.
--After that I would feel free to start contacting the city and state inspectors.
I would consider it the landlord's responsibility to put a sign up if the repair is in progress. Otherwise, I would continue to assume the elevator is not working, and might put up a quick sign to that effect.
But I would be calling the city and state inspectors from then on.
posted by calgirl at 3:53 PM on June 29, 2016

Thanks all for your advice. I called my local 311 and talked to them. They also advised to file a complaint, which I did, and told me to send my landlord a formal complaint through email letting them know that if it wasn't fixed, I would pursue legal action.

Oddly, less than an hour or so after I sent that email (which was less than 2 hours of being stuck) the elevator has been turned back on. It was off for what I thought was going to be maintenance, but my neighbor said they just "restarted it" and turned it back on. There's no signs or emails about the elevator previously getting stuck about an hour ago. If this is a fix, great, but I hope that it wasn't just a bandaid. Guess we'll all find out eventually.
posted by buttonedup at 5:22 PM on June 29, 2016

posted by buttonedup less than an hour or so after I sent that email (which was less than 2 hours of being stuck) the elevator has been turned back on. It was off for what I thought was going to be maintenance, but my neighbor said they just "restarted it" and turned it back on. There's no signs or emails about the elevator previously getting stuck about an hour ago.

Yeah, that's bad building management--the elevator needs to be removed from service until after it has been serviced and inspected. If you're feeling bold, have a friend hold the door while you snap a close-up photo of the operating permit--it must be posted in the elevator, usually high above the buttons. Check the date(s) on the permit and include the photo with your letters to the City. If the elevator doesn't have its permit, take a photo of the empty frame and be sure to mention the permit is missing.
posted by mattdidthat at 5:34 PM on June 29, 2016

I wouldn't even bother dealing with the landlord anymore after that email. You've made more than a good faith effort in notifying them, and legal action is if you want to break the lease or seek damages or something. If you're moving in August, there's no way it's worth your hassle to get personally involved with the landlord over this.

What I would do though is file a complaint with all the relevant agencies every single time something continues to go wrong with the elevator (and you know it will because they damn well didn't fix anything in the last two hours), follow up as best as you reasonably can, and get your roommates and neighbors to do the same. Let the safety inspectors get on your landlords' back about this, it's what they're for.

As AlexiaSky put it, if your landlord cared, it would've been fixed already. The way you make them care is by making it expensive for them to not care. The elevator itself is probably in violation of, uh, elevator code, but also not having a safe elevator probably means the building is in violation of housing codes. 311's a good start, a tenants' rights organization might be able tell you which other agencies to file complaints with.
posted by yeahlikethat at 5:48 PM on June 29, 2016

Here is your local code to back up matt's statement

Subp. 3. Damaged installations. Any
installation, whether new or existing, which
becomes damaged, defective, or worn, by fire,
water, or other causes including ordinary
wear to the extent that, in the opinion of the
authority having jurisdiction it is dangerous to
life, limb, or adjoining property, such
installations shall be repaired or rebuilt in
conformity with the applicable ASME code
and its associated state amendments.
Subp. 4. Unsafe conditions. When an
inspection reveals an unsafe condition, the
inspector must immediately file with the
owner and the authority having jurisdiction a
full and true report of the inspection and the
unsafe condition. The authority having
jurisdiction shall shut down any piece of
equipment covered by this chapter, that, in the
opinion of the authority having jurisdiction, is
dangerous to life, limb, or adjoining property,
and the equipment shall not be put back into
operation until the unsafe condition has been
corrected and approved by the authority
having jurisdiction. When an unsafe
condition is determined by the authority
having jurisdiction, the inspector shall place a
notice, in a conspicuous location, on the
elevator, escalator, or moving walk that the
conveyance is unsafe. The owner shall ensure
that the notice of unsafe condition is legibly
maintained where placed by the authority
having jurisdiction. The authority having
jurisdiction shall issue an order in writing to
the owner requiring the repairs or alterations
to be made to the conveyance in compliance
with the applicable ASME code and its
associated state amendments. A posted notice
of unsafe conditions shall be removed only by
the authority having jurisdiction when
satisfied that the required repairs or
alterations have been completed.

Call your fire department. They will be pissed and take appropraite action b/c they do not want to have to rescue someone else bc your landlord is an idiot.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:49 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Agree, contact the fire dept on the non-emergency line, or walk Iin. They will direct you who to contact for code enforcement, and they should open their own investigation as well, because just like you mentioned, they don't want someone with a serious medical issue to get stuck either.
posted by vignettist at 6:42 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

less than an hour or so after I sent that email (which was less than 2 hours of being stuck) the elevator has been turned back on. It was off for what I thought was going to be maintenance, but my neighbor said they just "restarted it" and turned it back on. There's no signs or emails about the elevator previously getting stuck about an hour ago.

Hey! i've been you! i lived in a "historic" building with 1920s elevators that broke CONSTANTLY. I was trapped in one 3 times! Actually more than that if you count the times after me and my friends literally figured out how to force our way out when it happened.

They would CONSTANTLY do this. Or get the elevator company to come out and replace one part, but refuse to pay to overhaul the damn thing and then it would break again in a week or two, or even a couple days.

Calling the fire department is the right call. Especially since they had to come get you out, they'll have a record of it. Calling the city/county elevators inspectors AND the housing inspectors multiple times is also the right call.

The fire department will fine them if they show up and feel like it. And at least around here, the fines are gigantic. Like mid four figures and up.

I moved out because of other bullshit maintenance issues and generally awful landlords(my place flooded slowly from above, for one) but eventually the elevators were shut down for a couple months while they did a ginormous overhaul.
posted by emptythought at 11:34 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you think the elevator is on the blink, call the fire dept. That's what we did way back in the day. Four of us got stuck for over three hours, one of our crew being a very heavily pregnant lady who was on the verge of a total freak out. Two days after our little joy trip, and being told the elevator was OK, 5 people got stuck. We called the fire guys, they came and rescued the stuck people and shut the elevator down until repairs were made (they did something, took away something that disabled the elevator). The building owners then had to prove to the city that proper repairs had been made, and an inspector had to come out to verify all was in working order. To this day, I get nervous when getting on elevators. You never get over being stuck in one. It's awful.
posted by james33 at 4:41 AM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

You could also put a sign on each floor asking other people to also make a report if they have an incident. Make it one of those signs with the little tags at the bottom to tear off, that contain the agency website/phone number, so people can tear one off and make a report from their apartment.
posted by CathyG at 12:18 PM on June 30, 2016

A 2002 era elevator should not have that many breakdowns. A 1960 elevator with vacuum tubes, physical relays, and all that, I could understand. Thing is, the electronics in the newer elevators are much more sensitive to power supply issues. The old ones were..not.

I would not be surprised to learn that your landlord is regularly calling out repair people who are just resetting the control system which is getting temporarily confused by power problems. It could even be annoying teenagers messing with the doors, thus causing it to stop. I would also not be surprised if the landlords are shitty people who are doing absolutely nothing.

The thing is, elevators stop when they aren't sure everything is OK, because it is safer than possibly crushing someone. I'd much rather have an elevator in my building that stopped occasionally because it thought some jackass had forced open a door than one that had broken interlocks and continued to run in that condition. One inconveniences me, but isn't risking anyone's life or limb, while the other could easily kill someone.

Still, your landlord is an ass for not getting it fixed or taking it out of service.
posted by wierdo at 3:05 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

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