I am not rational right now, and need advice.
June 14, 2006 8:54 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to approach our hippie landlord so that he agrees to waive our July rent?

Two weeks ago, a mysterious leak appeared in the corner ceiling in our bedroom, flooding a basket of freshly laundered clothes. We told the landlord, and though he never actually came to look at things in our unit he told us he took care of stuff upstairs and we had nothing to worry about.

Yesterday, a chunk of ceiling in the middle of the room fell down. Water soaked through the bed, box springs and floor and flooded our unfinished basement while we were at work.

Our box springs are destroyed. We slept on a soggy mattress last night. There's a hole in the ceiling and a mess in our home and I'm feeling majorly inconvenienced and not a little outraged.

I think it's reasonable to get a month off our rent, since our monthly rent is less than we paid for the bed new two years ago. But I'm the opposite of pushy and assertive, and that goes doubly so for my significant other.

How best should we approach this situation so we get what we want?
posted by croutonsupafreak to Work & Money (19 answers total)
Your first step is to read landlord/tenant laws in your area. Here's the Landlord/Tenant law outline provided by the Oregon Bar Association. This will tell you what his duties should be and what you're entitled to claim from him for failing to meet his duties.

What you have is a 'habitability' condition. Check the oregon revised statues to find out what he owes you. At the very least, he needs to replace your bed.
posted by SpecialK at 9:01 AM on June 14, 2006

Are you in an apartment with neighbors living above you? Is it possible it's their fault?
posted by ZackTM at 9:02 AM on June 14, 2006

Dude, part of the ceiling fell in. What's reasonable is to not pay any rent for the entire duration of the time in which there were leaks after he was notified of them, the landlord paying for a hotel while the problems are being repaired, as well as billing him for a new bed/clothes/etc.

I would just call the landlord, say "The repairs you made didn't take, part of the ceiling fell in, and there was considerable damage to our posessions. When will it be repaired by, and how do you want to handle compensation?"
posted by Jairus at 9:06 AM on June 14, 2006

Probably too late for you, but a warning to everyone else currently in an apartment: GET RENTERS INSURANCE NOW.

A claim against first-party insurance will get you money a lot faster and with a lot less acrimony than negotiating with a hippie landlord who obviously doesn't care. If you want to get out of your lease early, then by all means read up on the landlord/tenant law in your state to see if you have a breach of the warranty of habitability entitling you to terminate.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:07 AM on June 14, 2006

Make sure to keep notes of the dates and times of every important event, including communications between yourself and the landlord and specific details of the items damaged / destroyed. Also, take pictures if possible. Before you place the phone call, have a listing of items you want cleared up during the call, and then after the call write a follow-up letter indicating what he agreed to in the call.

In the end, it's about negotiation. If you think it's fair to not have to pay rent for July, then push that point. Hopefully he'll agree, and it'll work out fine...
posted by joecacti at 9:11 AM on June 14, 2006

Response by poster: I should clarify -- the landlord was there even before us when the ceiling fell in and spent most of the day in our apartment with a plumber getting the pipes fixed. But this happened two weeks after not responding to an earlier ceiling leak problem.

The landlord is blaming our upstairs neighbors for clogging their pipes, but I'm not convinced. The house is 100 years old and has lots of weird problems.

There's a gaping hole in the ceiling, and we're told it could be two or three weeks before he can schedule repairs.

I have a hard time being businesslike with him because he's a kind of stoner hippie who's really laid back and calm about everything. He was really apologetic yesterday. But being sorry doesn't seem to cut it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:11 AM on June 14, 2006

you say: dude, we have to move out until you get it fixed. and dude, you need to buy us a new bed. tell you what, we won't pay rent until september and call it even.
posted by lester at 9:14 AM on June 14, 2006

Then lawyer up. If there will be a hole in the ceiling for three weeks, he needs to provide alternate lodging for you in the meantime. My email's in my profile. I know a great tenant's lawyer.
posted by SpecialK at 9:15 AM on June 14, 2006

Take pictures. Take pictures. Take pictures. Take pictures.
posted by Izzmeister at 9:15 AM on June 14, 2006

Don't ask, just do. Instead of a rent check, give him a copy of your receipt for your replaced mattress.

A friend of mine had a very similar situation happen over the course of several months. She just gave them receipts instead of rent checks, and her hippie landlord never said a peep.
posted by macadamiaranch at 9:17 AM on June 14, 2006

I wouldn't cross the line into confrontation any sooner than needed. In a similar situation I gave my landlord a picture of the things that were damaged (blinds and laptop) and a current estimate for replacement (not a receipt) and subtracted the amount from money due him. He had no problem with that.

My upstairs neighbor billed him $50 per hour for every second of time he spent cleaning, including walking to the store to buy a bucket, filling the bucket, etc. He ended up evicted for nominally unrelated reasons, I'm still here.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:25 AM on June 14, 2006

If you're going to withhold rent, put it in escrow, or at least in a separate savings account that you don't touch.
posted by cmonkey at 9:37 AM on June 14, 2006

There are several things true here:

--your apartment was rendered unlivable for a period, and damage was caused to your possessions, and the apartment is still less than habitable
--you generally owe rent every month

It is perfectly acceptable to offset these things. Please do not believe anyone who tells you HAVE to keep paying rent, and trying feebly to get the landlord to reimburse you with a specific check for your losses. Stop paying rent right now, and start offsetting it against your real losses. Make a tally of those losses. Give the landlord the tally. Pay rent only when the tally is paid off. Take pictures, keep a copy of the tally.

There is zero chance the landlord will take you to court for this action. The judge would do exactly this offset in any case. You have a duty not to be a prick about it ("I had to stay in the Four Seasons at $900/night because my tenement had a leak") but otherwise all your costs are perfectly subtractable from the rent.

It doesn't matter at all whether the upstairs neighbor had anything to do with it.
posted by jellicle at 9:52 AM on June 14, 2006

This is a legal issue that will be determined based on the laws of your state. I agree that it seems reasonable that your landlord owes you some money, possibly equal to a month's rent, but if you want to be extra cautious, figure out exactly what the law says. You may want to call the landlord/tenant group in your city/state to get some background. I'm not sure what jellicle's basis is for his/her assertion, but my understanding of circumstances based on a few states I have lived in, as a tenant, is that deciding, outside of any legal obligation, what you want to pay your landlord is a way to get eviction proceedings started against you even if your landlord is wrong and you are right. Your landlord being a hippie stoner type makes this very unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility. Again, your tenancy is a legal arrangement and who owes who what money for whatever level of responsibility for this problem is also a legal decision. If for some crazy reason your landlord is not "at fault" you can always go after the upstairs tenants, so don't worry so much about getting a new bed as figuring out how to proceed through this with the greatest possible chance of straightening out your problem and getting reimbursed for your losses.

Spend some of your friustration time now documenting. Who said what when, to whom and then what happened? How much is it going to cost you in clean-up time, getting new crap time, and in actual replacement cost of stuff? When is your rent due? If you pay on the first, I'd try to see if you can come up with a deal with your landlord first [i.e. "you owe us $800 for beds and clean-up time, our rent is $1200, we will pay $400 of it"]. If it's due on the fifteenth, you may have to make a choice. In either case, you need to work on making a deal with your landlord either casually if you agree on the points, or legally if he's unwilling to work things out in a way you are happy with. Make offers with deadlines attached to them and think of yourself as a giant icebreaking ship, inexorably (but possibly slowly) moving towards working this all out. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 10:17 AM on June 14, 2006

I'm echoing a lot of the upthread stuff, but man, have I had some lousy landlord experiences because I was too nice.

Keep a log of everything in writing with dates. If you wind up having to withhold rent (escrow is the usual way to prevent eviction) or taking the guy to court, you'll want to have as much documentation as possible.

Apologies for sounding bitchy, but you have to be more assertive. Either that, or stop caring about your possessions.

Call him up, tell him that the condition of you apartment is unreasonable, tell him what you want him to do to make it better. Whether you replace your things and bill him or withhold rent for the appropriate amount is up to you, but it's probably easier for everyone if you withhold rent. Add to that amount a reasonable amount for cleanup.

This is property owner's responsibility. If it's truly the upstairs neighbors' fault, he can go after them for compensation.

Also, get Renters Insurance. It's cheap. Like 3-4 fewer BPM's (beers-per-month).
posted by desuetude at 11:47 AM on June 14, 2006

Take pictures. Determine your costs: box spring, mattress, cleaning costs, etc. Send it to him and ask if he prefers to write you a check, or that you deduct it from your rent, over as much time as necessary. Be polite, cheerful, and assume that he will be happy to make good. IYAL (I Yam a Landlord) and I would not hesitate to make it right. And, of course, I am insured, so I would want good documentation, so I could take it to my insurer.

If he gives you a hard time, then you can get angry and threaten legal action, but give him the opportunity to do the right thing 1st.
posted by theora55 at 12:59 PM on June 14, 2006

You may be able to withhold rent without even having him officially "waive it" - but check the laws of your state.
posted by lorrer at 1:21 PM on June 14, 2006

Best answer: May I suggest that you write out a script of what you'd like to say to your landlord, and then either call him up and recite it, or mail it to him, before you do anything drastic like spending money on a lawyer or skipping paying your July rent? Leave your emotions out of it, explain what happened, explain what damages you suffered from it, and explain what you think is fair.

Your landlord might agree with you, in which case all the rest of it becomes a totally moot point.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:50 PM on June 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all. I'm not ready to resort to tenant-landlord law just yet -- I was really hoping to find advice for approaching this in a non-confrontational way, at least to start, because I generally like our landlord and want to live here for a while.

Also, I do have renter's insurance, so I can use that if I need it. I just happen to think this is the landlord's responsibility, and I'd rather have him pay for our losses than file a claim and take a bump in my insurance premium.

The bed is still a little damp, but it's not completely clear that it's ruined yet.

After my s.o. followed ikkyu2's advice, the landlord volunteered to replace the bed if needed, but asked us to set it up in a warm, well-ventilated area with fans for a few days to see if it can be dried and salvaged.

We have a spare (older, less comfy) bed that we can sleep on in the meantime, so we're mildly inconvenienced, but not completely so.

I'm not entirely happy with the situation. The bed will have ugly stains even if we can still use it. But those stains will be covered up by mattress pad, sheets and blankets. As long as it doesn't smell bad or hurt my back, I'm willing to give it a chance.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:58 PM on June 15, 2006

« Older English is soooo much fun! Right?   |   Let the Eagle Soar / Like She's Never Soared... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.