Flooding, what to do?
January 26, 2007 9:07 AM   Subscribe

My apartment had some minor flooding last night. Is it unreasonable to ask for a month of free rent? Or, have I lost my security deposit?

I am a college student, I live alone in a medium-sized studio in Flatbush, Brooklyn, for which I pay $900/mo. Last night dirty water started coming out of my ceiling, probably 15 gallons or so--right into my lamp, potentially creating a deadly electrical situation. No one answered the door at the apartment above me. My property manager had not given me my new super's phone number, telling me to take maintenance issues to the management office (which was closed at 11 pm, of course). I had to call the Brooklyn fire department, which showed up, punched a hole in my ceiling (without asking me), turned off my electricity, and left.
After they left, more water started coming down the walls, "blistering" the paint. I immediately left a message at the management office explaining the situation.

Now I have a hole in my ceiling, bits of ceiling all over the floor, no electricity in my main room for several days, lots of wet/damaged books and possessions, a wall and the ceiling are water-damaged, and my whole apartment smells like swamp.

Is it reasonable to ask for a month of free rent? Or did I do something wrong, forfeiting my security deposit? My lease doesn't seem to say anything about this, it's a standard NYC lease. Otherwise, should I take this to some authority?
posted by nasreddin to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You should call the rent board, who will have about a thousand suggestions and a brochure for you to look at. Then, and only when you know your rights, talk to the property management company. Do you have rental insurance? If so, call them too.
posted by parmanparman at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2007

I lived in an apartment outside of DC that had two floods over the course of a month. The first was caused by an upstairs neighbor leaving her faucet open and plugging the drain while the water was turn off to the building causing my bathroom ceiling to collapse while at work. The second was due to water leaking over the seals on the flat roof seeping down through the walls and destroying the drywall and carpet on the wall. My management company gave us some sort of major discount on the rent and repaired the damage without affecting the security deposit. As far as personal posessions, do you have renter's insurance?
posted by buttercup at 9:14 AM on January 26, 2007

1. You did the right thing calling the fire department. There was nothing else you could do, you had no way of knowing what else might be happening in the building.

2. Sounds like a pipe burst because of last night's extreme cold. There aer things a super can do when freezing temperatures are forecast to prevent this from happening.

3. If you don't ask for some sort of personal compensation, it won't be offered. In fact, in my experience, you'll be lucky if the super even sweeps up after patching your ceiling.

4. If you walk into the situation feeling the least bit guilty or worried about your deposit, they'll take advantage of this. You didn't do anything wrong. While a month of free rent might be excessive, let your landlord know that you'll be staying with friends until the matter is fixed, and that you expect that time to be pro-rated and deducted from your next rent payment. Note to you: once this agreement is made, you don't necessarily have to stay elsewhere, but I recommend it. Opening up the ceiling fills your home with dust and mold that you don't need to be breathing.

5. Is your lamp damaged? If so you can let the landlord know that the cost of replacing it with a similar one will be deducted from next month's rent. You'll provide a receipt. This goes for anything else that was damaged.
posted by hermitosis at 9:17 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Be friendly about this, but very firm in stating what you expect to be done about it.

Some landlords won't take you seriously, however, unless you are driven to snarling tears. So feel free to bust those out at the first sign of resistance.
posted by hermitosis at 9:19 AM on January 26, 2007

1) You did nothing wrong.

2) Please say that you have renter's insurance.
posted by desuetude at 9:21 AM on January 26, 2007

In 2005, my apartment of two years flooded following a hurricane. When I write "flooded," I mean water literally poured from dozens of places on the ceiling and down the walls for a good four or five hours. It was totally ruined.

It actually happened a week or two after the hurricane hit - there had been noticeable roof damage, and the landlord did nothing to fix the problem, while other landlords in the area had tarps up to cover holes. When it rained...

In other words, it was entirely the landlord's fault, and it was entirely preventable.

All my furniture and various other personal items were damaged beyond repair. I had to get out of the building immediately. The landlord didn't compensate me for anything, except the return of my security deposit. Of course, they let me out of my lease, as the building was officially condemned the next day.

Okay. If your apartment smells like swamp, it may be due to mold buildup. The same thing happened to my place after the flood. My guess is that it should be condemned - it's probably not livable if the moisture and resulting mold/fungus cannot be immediately removed. It may not be safe for you to breathe that stuff in. Please be careful.

If you want to at least get out of your lease, you might try calling the city and having them send inspectors. You should get your security deposit back, but if your experience is anything like mine, you will have to pester the landlord quite a bit for it.

Good luck.
posted by gaiamark at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2007

Welcome to New York!

Start taking notes: what happened, when, what happened to your stuff, etc.

Move out immediately. Find another apartment. Leave. I will tell you, otherwise you're in for months and months and months of people trooping in and out of your apartment, trashing your stuff further, plaster dust everywhere, noise, water shut offs, electricity shut offs, mold and mildew growing everywhere, etc.

The landlord mantra is: "Do as little as possible, as slowly as possible". Repairs to your ceiling are not urgent. Drying out the walls is not urgent. Drying out the floors is not urgent. Fixing the water pipes so that all tenants have water is semi-important, but not urgent either. The landlord is NOT going to troop in with a squad of well-trained fixers and make everything fine again. They will send Dmitry, the 60-year-old Russian handyman who is blind in one eye and deeply arthritic, to take a look at it, only when you complain, and he will do as little as possible to keep the building from falling down.

New York (and other places) have this idea called the "warranty of habitability". By law, your landlord warrants, REGARDLESS of what is written in the lease, that the apartment is habitable. This means hot water, electricity, not soaking wet, ceiling isn't falling in, and any other condition that would make the apartment uninhabitable. During any period that the apartment is uninhabitable, you are not required to pay rent.

So you should immediately cease to pay rent. Send a letter to the landlord, stating your reasons why. (Remember, the guy accepting your rent check may not know much about the actual conditions in your apartment, so be thorough and descriptive.) Some landlords will behave reasonably at this point - they know the apartment is a shithole. Most will not. They'll try to keep your security deposit, pester you about rent, threaten you, etc. That's another reason why you need to leave.

You're going to have to be an aggressive advocate for yourself. The landlord's negligence has imposed substantial costs on you; that's the true story. The fake story that they're going to try to put on you is that you are required to pay your rent no matter what happens to the apartment, that they're entitled to keep your security deposit, etc. etc.
posted by jellicle at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2007

YOu can't buy flood insurance if you rent, so you could face an uphill battle, I feel for you!
posted by chickaboo at 10:13 AM on January 26, 2007

Yeah, as jellicle mentioned, if you do in fact want to move to a new place, now is the time. A NYC landlord will let you out of the lease under these circumstances because he knows that he can patch the problem and have someone else move in by the first of February, no problem.

And ditto on jellicle's assertion that these repairs will be considered low-priority, no matter how miserable they make you in the meantime. Unless you have a stellar landlord (they do exist!). So when you talk to the office--preferably in person, agree on a date by which the repairs must be done.

In my old set up, I'd call the super for repairs, he'd fail to show, so then I'd call the landlord, who would eventually get back to me and tell me I needed to talk to the super. After explaining that therein lay the problem, the landlord said he'd talk to the super, thereby guaranteeing that sometime within the next 5-7 days I'd get a call from the super saying he was at my place to fix the problem, and why wasn't anyone there to let him in? Rescheduling a time for him to come back basically led to repeating this whole process. So I ended up giving my super a set of our keys-- which made us very, very nervous.

Screw finding the perfect apartment-- find me a landlord I can tolerate and I'll settle down for quite some time.
posted by hermitosis at 10:24 AM on January 26, 2007

Ugh. I am really sorry your dealing with this. I still feel traumatized from flooding I had in my apartment last summer.

Some of the things I learned:
1 - Your landlord has a legal obligation to provide a habitable residence. That means you should have heat, water and electricity, as well as protection from the elements.
2 - If the landlord does not provide a habitable residence, there's almost certainly a city or state law that allows you to take steps to house yourself safely, and you should be able to deduct associated costs from your rent. A local tenant's association should be able to help.
3 - Your lease almost certainly has a clause that protects the landlord from paying for any of your damaged property. If you don't have renter's insurance, you're probably screwed.
4 - Landlords lie about what they'll do, when they'll do it, and what kind of financial restitution they'll provide. If you don't have it in writing, you're screwed. Get everything in writing.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:09 AM on January 26, 2007

The key question is, is this an apartment you want to keep or not. Are you paying above or below the market rate? Are you invested in it in some other way? You should probably get out, unless there is an extremely compelling reason not to.

My building (converted house) had a burst pipe a couple of years ago. Once the plumbing was fixed, I did the repairs myself. They paid for materials, including some things that needed fixing but weren't affected by the water (kitchen floor, mostly). Some will think I was taken advantage of, but I was happy with the arrangement, it kept me in a place I like. On the other hand, the building was sold last year, so even if goodwill counts for something in the cut throat world of landlords and tenants, it is gone now.
posted by Chuckles at 11:09 AM on January 26, 2007

Also, the incident taught me that emergency plumbers are a scam..
posted by Chuckles at 11:14 AM on January 26, 2007

Take pictures of everything! All the damage (including your lamp). At least in the case of a friend of mine, this came in very handy when he had to go to court to fight the landlord.
posted by inigo2 at 11:52 AM on January 26, 2007

Thank you very much for your answers.

I don't think the flooding was serious enough to warrant moving out--I'm very busy and poor, and I can't find an affordable apartment in NYC on short notice and stay sane simultaneously.

Since I was there when it happened, I moved my stuff out of the way quickly, so the only things damaged were some books (I have very few possessions, so no renter's insurance). It is, however, an inconvenience for me to have a hole in my ceiling and ugly water damage. The apartment is pretty habitable, but given my past experience in this apartment, I would be surprised if various vermin didn't start coming through the hole.

I called the NY Rent Board and they told me mostly the same things I've been hearing here, except that I can also file a rent reduction for reduction of services request. I called the management, and they are sending someone to look at it within the next few days. No mention of any rent reduction.
posted by nasreddin at 12:12 PM on January 26, 2007

They'll never offer a rent reduction. You have to ask. My roommate and I just got half our rent off for Jan. because the bathroom had to be totally renovated, floor to ceiling (rotting pipes, not our fault at all) and we basically had no bathroom for about three weeks. Believe me, we had to argue for it (nicely), but it was worth it. However, my landlord is a small LLC (just two guys), not a big company, which might have helped. I also live in Brooklyn, fwiw.

I think I just read somewhere that in NYC, it's required that you have a super available 24 hours a day--you should be able to call or page them at 3am, if necessary. At a minimum the management company should have an answering service that will take your calls and handle these things. It doesn't sound like they will (or have they not seen the apartment at all yet?), but if they hassle you about calling the fire department, you might want to check into these rules. You definitely should not lose your security deposit, since this was clearly not your fault.
posted by min at 12:37 PM on January 26, 2007

I had the EXACT same thing happen to me, in winter, in college, but I was away for the weekend, so the flooding didn't stop, and got worse, and worse, and worse...

Luckily there was a tenant resource center in my town, and they were very helpful. I ended up getting a nicer, vacant apartment for the same price, which the landlord had. I stayed there while they repaired the apartment to the state in which it was when I signed the contract. It was a long ordeal, but it ended up good for me. Bad, I think for the tenants upstarirs who didn't close their window all the way, and thus got a big bill since that caused their pipes to burst.

If you want to talk about the process, contact me, I'd be happy to tell you more details/ ways I badgered my landlord.
posted by conch soup at 2:28 PM on January 26, 2007

If you would consider moving if there were an easy/cheap place to move to: there's a complex called Flatbush Gardens just east of the Newkirk 2/5 stop, where you can get a studio for $775 and they mgmt is very eager to fill the place (it's under new mgmt and they are fully renovating the apts, doing a great job). The apts are beautiful on the inside and ugly on the outside (this used to be a housing project and was sold to private developers I think a decade ago or more). Could be worth looking at...
posted by allterrainbrain at 1:59 PM on January 27, 2007

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