Yikes! Just found out my new apt. won't be free until 2+ weeks after my lease's start date (which is next Thursday).
February 24, 2007 4:26 AM   Subscribe

Minor-Panic Filter. NYC apartment won't be ready for move-in until at least two weeks after lease's start date (which is next Thursday), and I found this out LAST NIGHT. I still have to vacate my current place on Thursday. What are my options, and what creative solutions might keep me from having to move all my stuff twice in the space of two weeks (during an ultra-busy month for me)?

In January I found a great cheap apt. that was about to be gut-renovated (I saw another apt in the building that just been renovated with the same materials and it looked great). The building's mgmt told my broker that the renovation would be finished before March 1st so my lease should be drawn up for that date.

So on Jan. 31st, I signed a 12-month lease with a March 1st start date (giving the brokerage my first month, one-month deposit & broker's fee as certified checks). Over February, the agent who'd shown me the place kept reporting he'd seen the renovations in progress and the March 1st move-in date would be "fine." I started getting concerned that he couldn't absolutely confirm this, and I asked whether I should be talking to someone at the building company myself (he said no, but this week I told him I had to hear something from a person who could confirm for sure).

Of course, last night he finally told me: not only can I not move in on the 1st, there is still no set date for when the renovations will be finished ("They're saying it should be done by the middle of March"). I called the owner of the brokerage, and he expressed shock, apologized for this agent's behavior (he's very young and brand new, and he apparently "froze" into pretending all was well), and promised that my contacts at the brokerage from now on will be him and the young agent's manager. But logically, there's nothing they can do about the start date.

So... while I sure can't afford a hotel/etc., I can crash with friends. But obviously, moving my stuff twice is going to be complicated and cost me more time & money -- and March is an important & dense work-month for me that would be pretty seriously compromised by couch surfing.

The ideal solution would be if I could stay in a different apt in my new building, from March 1st until whenever my apt is ready. HOWEVER, I don't know if asking for that is a good way to start off my relationship with the building's mgmt (after all, the urgency of this situation is due to the incompetent broker more than to them -- and it's so unlikely anyway that there's any unit still open for March 1st, since there are only about 90 units in the building). Based on experience, I think it's ultra-important to pick your battles and to start on a positive, non-"problem" note with a mgmt co.

In immediate terms: what am I not thinking of that could help me avoid couch-surfing and messing up my work-month? In financial terms: A) is this situation grounds for getting my broker's fee back? And B) assuming I don't get to stay somewhere in the new building as of March 1st, should I ask the brokerage to pay for half of my doubled moving expense? (I don't have much stuff, so we're just talking two man-with-a-van afternoons, rather than one.) This is the first time I've used a broker (I've found all my other places without one). Thanks for any advice... anecdotal advice is great too...
posted by lorimer to Work & Money (32 answers total)
You signed a lease: they owe you a place to live. They should pay for you to stay someplace. If they don't, you check yourself into a decent motel and send them the bills. If they don't pay you sue. A lawyer's letter to them will help. IANAL etc.

(At the very least you should get the difference between a basic motel for the two weeks, and the rent you would otherwise have paid. Work out what that is and ask for it in cash).

eg Motel @ $100 a night for 14 nights: $1400

your weekly rent: $200

you ask for $1400 - (2 x $200) = $1000

substitute your own figures
posted by unSane at 4:33 AM on February 24, 2007

I'd try to get a win/win situation before threatening to sue - after all, you're going to be living there, perhaps for years - and litigation or threats of litigation doesn't really get you off to a proper start.

Point out that this problem wasn't of your own creation, that both of you have a problem that you must work together to solve and yes, definitely ask for short term use of a flat in that same building.

Failing that see if they've got other flats in nearby buildings. Regardless, try to get them to provide you with storage space - make sure they know your precise situation.

The buildings management is trying to run a business. Your his customer. Businesses want happy customers, not cutomers that are threatening to sue. You should be able to make this work, but you're going to have to push a little and ask for things. From the building managements point of view, the best case would be for you to go away until the flat is ready. From your point of view, the best case is your promise flat, March 1st.

Try to work to a mutually acceptable And as a negotiating tactic I'd suggest that initially you soft pedal on the motel.

Ideally, they'd suggest a motel - at their expense - to you.
posted by Mutant at 5:01 AM on February 24, 2007

what happened there?

"Try to work to a mutually acceptable outcome. And..."
posted by Mutant at 5:14 AM on February 24, 2007

After getting screwed by a combination of brokerage and management both times I've gotten apartments in Brooklyn, I am surprised to hear talk of a "good relationship" with the management company. In my experience I've been a completely faceless unit to my mgmt; even with major, ongoing problems like mysterious liquid pouring through my bathroom vent, I've had to explain the entire story to them every time I've called. Possibly you're getting a nicer place with a real, professional management company. But if you're in any hipster neighborhood in Brooklyn (as faintly suggested by your username) I would skip the niceties and jump right to the angry demands. When I've been in comparable situations I haven't really trusted the revised time estimates either -- so, that is, I wouldn't put much stock in "by the middle of March" either.

Every broker I've ever been screwed by has been "young" or "inexperienced" or something; sure, he didn't know what to do, but once he had your check it probably didn't seem like his problem anymore. He works for a company: they're responsible too.
posted by xueexueg at 5:50 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far! I wouldn't think of suing the brokerage unless things somehow got way crazier than they are now. I don't know if a motel (here, hotel) stay is realistic given NYC prices, but I think it's realistic to ask that they house me in *some* vacant apt they're connected with somewhere.

I think the main issue is that there are two separate entities involved here: the building management co. and the brokerage. I don't care how the brokerage perceives me. But I care HUGELY about not having the management co. perceive me as a problem tenant or troublemaker from the beginning, since they'll be the ones I have to ask in the future for anything that needs intervention for the whole time I live there. If there are human issues that can't be resolved person-to-person, the management co. can either step in to help or ignore you. (I had to move out of a previous place because of nightly floor-shaking music that the mgmt just laughed off.)
posted by lorimer at 5:50 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: :) Good catch xueexueg -- my name does come from the Lorimer stop, but only because I think the word sounds good; I've never lived near there. (This new building is your average rent-regulated, six-story box in northern Manhattan.)
posted by lorimer at 5:57 AM on February 24, 2007

It seems you are afraid of making management angry. So I would suggest that you lay all your belongings in the street and sleep in the gutter for the three weeks. RU NUTZ? They goofed, and rest assured if you had to end the lease early they would come after you for every penny. They need to find you a place to live, they need to find you storage (preferably in the building), they need to pay you to move your stuff from storage when the apartment is ready. Don't be scaired of offending the building management.
posted by Gungho at 6:15 AM on February 24, 2007

Also, to prevent the move-twice scenario, try PODS. Just keep whatever necessities you need with you in the temporary place.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:15 AM on February 24, 2007

nthing the issue is really with management. ultimately, they aren't going to be able to provide what they can contractually provide.

ultimately, if you sue, you'd probably win. but unless they are total idiots, they will figure something out pretty quick. i could easily see them giving you a vacant unit for a week or two, and maybe some help in moving.

just be flexible, and go for the solution. don't threaten to sue--once you have to , you are done with them, and you need a lawyer. but your best chances are for direct negotiation. and because it is a probolem they created, they should take the burden of securing your residence.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:46 AM on February 24, 2007

Best answer: I think it might actually be in your favor to make a first impression to the mgmt co that you are not someone who can be pushed around. I have had several problems with my apt, and at first tried to be nice with the mgmt co. This resulted in my getting ignored or politely brushed off. After getting more serious with my demands and dropping the fake nice attitude, things got fixed.

You are in the right here, and have every right to ask for everything that Gungho has laid out. You don't need to threaten to sue, but you certainly should ask for the things you are entitled to and have paid for. If you don't get them, then you might consider legal action.

I would send letters to both the brokerage firm and mgmt co. Make sure you have dated copies of each of your requests.
posted by cubby at 6:53 AM on February 24, 2007

Best answer: You have to be your own advocate here because no one else will do it.

The way to solve this is make a list of options and go down them one by one, like this:

1. Tell the management company that you have a lease starting March 1st, and get them to confirm that they can't honor that lease.

2. Tell them that you are willing to live in one of their other apartments until yours is ready, if they pay for the cost of moving your stuff twice. If they balk or are unable to do this, move on to #3.

3. Inform them (very important, do not request!!!) that due to their inability to honor their contract, you will be forced to stay in a hotel or B&B and store your stuff until the apartment is ready. The cost of this will either be reimbursed or deducted from the second month's rent. If they agree, get it in writing. If they balk at this, do it anyway. Save all receipts and move in when they allow it. Show them the expenses you incurred by them not honoring your contract, and inform them that they are responsible. If they balk again, move on to #4.

4. Sue.

P.S. I am not a lawyer, but I think you need some sort of escalating plan. This is the best I could come up with. Also, start keeping a written or recorded journal of everything that happens.
posted by milarepa at 7:11 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: Actually hard to say who "created" the problem, since it wouldn't have happened without all these contributions:

• mgmt co. made a wrong estimate about the timeframe and failed to notify brokerage when they knew it was wrong;

• brokerage put a 19-year-old agent in a position he wasn't remotely ready for and failed to closely supervise him (and charged me a broker fee for the privilege of being his guinea pig);

• baby-agent failed ask for help when he needed it, totally failed to communicate, and explicitly discouraged me from contacting mgmt (which would've uncovered the problem);

• I failed to insist on a firm answer or insist on contacting mgmt until a week before move-in date (if I'd insisted earlier, brokerage could have discovered the serious problem with baby-agent and put pressure on mgmt to finish the renovation on time).
posted by lorimer at 7:13 AM on February 24, 2007

Even if you'd insisted earlier, it still wouldn't necessarily mean that the work would be done on time. I don't think it's worth thinking about this as partly your fault, and it's definitely a bad idea to convey such a thought to your broker or the management.

Basically, they said they could provide something, and can't, and so they need to take responsibility. I think you should try to talk with them in a way that conveys that 'of course they'll make up for it, since they're a good and honorable company and you're excited to be their tenant.' Be nice, and polite, and friendly, but don't spare them the details of how this makes life hard for you. If they don't offer you compensation, then they're probably not going to do anything much for you in the future either. In which case you should continue to be firm and polite, and if absolutely necessary bring up NY tenant laws.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 7:44 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: Well said, lullaby!

••• Update #1 •••

I just got an email from the brokerage with a promising tone.

Excerpt: "There is a resolution here and we will find it.... From this point on, we will not let you down."
posted by lorimer at 7:53 AM on February 24, 2007

You have a binding contract with the management company. They are they one's you need to ultimately deal with, due to the contract and also they have what you want. If they think it's the broker's fault, then they need to go after him to get compensated for what they feel they're owed.

Secondly, I would demand that the broker's firm, due to their gross (and admitted) incompetence, offer you some portion of your money back. Half would seem appropriate. Don't let them brush you off with an apology. They might refuse, but you should demand the money anyway. It's worth a shot. Don't let them intimidate you.

Finally, you did nothing wrong. You sound nice and sweet. These characteristics may have allowed this situation to escalate to where it is, but you did not create this problem. You need to stop including yourself as someone who caused this problem. You forked over thousands of dollars and signed the papers. You did your part. It's everybody else who effed up.
posted by milarepa at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2007

my name does come from the Lorimer stop

Heh. You're the person I was talking about here.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:07 AM on February 24, 2007

Best answer: You're (presumably) holding a lease guaranteeing you a livable apartment starting March 1st. Did you read the lease before you signed it? It may contain language that weasels them out of this situation, in which case you're screwed. But we'll assume that it doesn't.

Therefore, it is not you who has a problem. It is the person or corporation named on the other side of the lease. Presumably, that's not the broker; that's your new landlord.

You need to speak to that entity or its representative. You must be stern. You must make them understand that they have a serious problem; that they are about to be in breach of contract, and that you are going to take no steps to remedy the problem on their behalf. You are then going to inquire what steps they are going to take for your satisfaction. Then you are going to stop talking and listen to what they say.

The next part is where they try to prod you into agreeing to something that's less than acceptable to you. If I were you, I would expect that the minimum acceptable offer would be to find and pay for temporary lodging for you; and pay for one set of movers' fees and storage for the period of uninhabitability.

I would not, however, hold out for or expect that they somehow get the apartment, or one in the same building, ready for you in the next 4 days. That would be nice; but it may not be within the realm of realistic possibility. If you demand something that really can't be provided, you are guaranteeing yourself a bad outcome.

Finally: if they stonewall you, they are placing a wager on your character: that you will not do yourself the inconvenience of retaining a lawyer. I'm not you, and I can't suggest what you should do, but in your place I'd probably call their damned bet.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:11 AM on February 24, 2007

Oh, by the way: you're wasting your time with the brokerage. Their contractual obligation is to find the management company a tenant and get that tenant to sign on the dotted line.

They're already finished with that! Their work is done! It's perfectly easy for them to say to you, "We won't let you down." They CAN'T let you, or anyone, down. Their legally obligated part in this is over.

Since they're loyal to the people who pay them - the building management company, not you - they are now stalling you. Here's my guess: what they have in mind is that they will stall you until you've laid out money for movers, found a new place to live (on your own dime), and essentially resolved the problem at great personal cost to yourself. Then they will graciously, generously, offer to allow you to break your lease and accept a refund of your security deposit. That's the acceptable resolution that they're getting ready to offer you.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:16 AM on February 24, 2007

Unless the baby-agent had reason to think the date might slip, and did nothing about it, I'm not clear why it's their problem and not management's. But, if they're willing to deal with management on your behalf, great. If you think they're not doing that, I agree you'll have to deal with management directly. In either case, all the options that you and others have mentioned are reasonable, you deserve them, and you should ask for them. As one more, perhaps they could finish one room enough for you to move the bulk of your stuff in on March 1?
posted by daisyace at 8:26 AM on February 24, 2007

Several people here have been saying that the management company is contractually obliged to provide you with a place to live, but as far as I know, none of us have actually read your lease.

You should read it now and see what they're obliged to provide you with. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be surprised if you agreed in the lease that if the unit wasn't available on March 1, they owed you nothing, but you likewise didn't owe rent until it became available--or something similar to that. In that case, suing may not do a bit of good, and they know it.

So step 1 is to read the lease. Figure out what, if anything, you're entitled to under it. In addition to your rights under the lease, you may have additional rights under New York landlord/tenant law, but I don't think anyone here knows what they are. You'd need to talk to a lawyer, and that could easily get more expensive than it's worth.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:22 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: It's a 5-page lease that I did read carefully before I signed it. It actually says nothing explicit about my right to the start date of the lease, only about the end. Here is all it says about the term of the lease:

"The term of this lease is 1 years, 0 months, 0 days, beginning on March 1, 2007 and ending on February 31 [sic -- maybe a standard for listing end date?], 2008. If You do not do everything You agree to do in this Lease, Owner may have the right to end it before the above date. If Owner does not do everything Owner agrees to do in this Lease, Owner may have the right to end it before the above date. "

Then later in the section called "TENANT'S RIGHT TO LIVE IN AND USE THE APARTMENT," it says,

"If You pay the rent and any additional required rent on time and You agree to do everything You have agreed to do in this Lease, your tenancy cannot be cut off before the ending date."
posted by lorimer at 10:49 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: (Ugh -- that last sentence has an extra "agree to"; should be "... on time, and You do everything You have agreed to do in this Lease...")
posted by lorimer at 10:54 AM on February 24, 2007

Yeah, you haven't established a tenancy yet, so that part's not relevant.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:18 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: Since the first part ("The term of this lease...") is the only statement in the lease having anything to do with the lease's start date, am I right in assuming they have no wiggle room there (as Mr. President was wondering)?

It seems the lease says I have a right to start occupying this apartment as of March 1st, but says nothing about what happens if the apt isn't available as of the contractual start date.
posted by lorimer at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2007

I don't like
If Owner does not do everything Owner agrees to do in this Lease, Owner may have the right to end it before the above date"
at all. I think you might need a lawyer versed in NY real estate law to really come at this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:23 PM on February 24, 2007

Why not just ask your broker "All right, we both know this is a problem. What can you do to make this right?" If the broker's office screwed up, he (should) want to do something to make you something other than an angry customer who is apt to sue and tell everybody what a bad guy you are.

But read your lease very carefully before you begin that conversation so you know who is legally obligated to do what.
posted by ilsa at 2:42 PM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for catching that, ikkyu2. Luckily that was just another typo on my part (I'm just totally underslept & upset at this point). The actual text is the much more logical,

"If Owner does not do everything Owner agrees to do in this Lease, *You* may have the right to end it before the above date."

I have read my lease carefully even if I can't seem to type it carefully. Except for its factual statement of the term of the lease, it says nothing at all about the start date or about any delayed-start issues.

The entity named as the Owner on the lease is "[building's street address] LLC" and Owner's mailing address is "c/o __ Management Company, [address in a different borough]." So I agree the brokerage has no contractual responsibility or legal presence on my lease. But I feel (and they are at least giving lip service to feeling) that they are directly responsible for the urgency of the situation because they put baby-agent in the field irresponsibly.

They are also actively remaining my de facto contact; still no one has actually given me the management co's phone number (when I asked baby-agent what their number was, in my last conversation with him last night when he admitted he should have told me to contact them in the first place, he said, "I don't know -- it's on your lease, right?" Which of course it's not.)

A final thing I should mention (sorry to go on but I think this point is critical): suing a *management company* (as opposed to a *brokerage*) is a serious problem in NYC, and the management company knows it. In NYC there is a carefully maintained, citywide blacklist -- openly/actively shared among mgmt companies -- of tenants who have been involved in any legal challenge with management or landlords, regardless of who the court decided was at fault. This is the perfect definition of "chilling effect": you have to either avoid any legal conflict or risk being automatically denied future leases from other landlords. Google this if you need to (I know it might sound unbelievable or urban-legendy to you, especially if housing where you live is a buyer's market) but it's very much a reality.
posted by lorimer at 4:09 PM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: Okay I just keep making typos and errors. Gonna try to get some sleep and I will give a clearer report tomorrow.

Thanks so much for all your advice so far. It really helps and makes me feel much better. I haven;'t marked any best answers yet but I will.

Love, your exhausted OP.
posted by lorimer at 7:33 PM on February 24, 2007

The term I've heard for this is implied warranty of habitability, which Wikipedia (always trusted as a source for legal advice) defines as "a warranty implied by law that by leasing a residential property, the lessor is promising that it is suitable to be lived in, and will remain so for the duration of the lease." All to say, and if (if) Wikipedia is basically right and applies to NYC, it sounds like by saying the "terms of the lease are ______" the contract does in fact mean that the place should be fit to live in by March 1st.
posted by salvia at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2007

Response by poster: ••• Update #2 •••

Good news. They're housing me in another apt (newly renovated) in the same building, from Thursday until the day my real one is ready for me. It's on the same floor, so no double-moving issues.

If anyone is still reading this (I'd be surprised-but-grateful!!), below are the questions I said I wanted to settle with this... so does anything spring to mind as something I should also ask?

In this version (for their privacy), "A" indicates the apt named on my lease and "B" indicates the one I'll be staying in til A is ready.

" 1) Where and when on Thursday do I get the keys to B?

2) Will they be bringing people through B to show it while I stay there?

3) Given that B's utilities will be turned on as of March 1st, will they be in mgmt's name? If yes, will I reimburse mgmt for utilities I use in B?

4) What is the current estimate for A's occupancy date? (It's okay if they need this answer to be be non-binding & totally unofficial -- I'm just so lost, after hearing this much different info, that anything they can share will help).

5) Will my lease will be modified to start on the date I occupy A? If yes, will its end date also be modified? Is the rent I've paid for March applied to my A start date?

6) Should I keep my mail going elsewhere, or can I start using A's mailbox? (or B's?)

7) Should the relevant questions above be formalized in a new rider for my lease, or is email agreement enough? "
posted by lorimer at 2:39 PM on February 26, 2007

Best answer: Should the relevant questions above be formalized in a new rider for my lease, or is email agreement enough?

Glad everything seems to be working out, but the answer to this question is YES, any agreement involving money should include signatures.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:27 PM on February 26, 2007

see, it all worked out ... and i bet you didn't have to threaten to sue, either.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:41 AM on February 27, 2007

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