What are my rights as a renter?
June 12, 2007 4:58 PM   Subscribe

What rights do I have if my landlord wants to do 3 weeks of repairs on my apartment?

Our landlord just called and wants to remodel our bathroom. She says it will take 3-4 weeks of work. She wasn't sure how invasive the work would be. We'd rather not deal with the mess and inconvenience. What recourse do we have? Can we refuse?

Some background:
The apartment is in Somerville, MA. We've lived here 2 years. The bathroom has been in disrepair the entire time. We recently told the landlord we wouldn't be renewing the lease. We'll be out of here on August 31st. We obviously can't go even one day without a working shower and toilet.
posted by david1230 to Law & Government (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't imagine the landlord has the right to knock your bathroom out of commision for a month without compensating you somehow. I've had friends who were booted out of their apartments for a month or two so they could be remodelled, and then had the option of signing a new lease afterward. The reasonable approach is for your landlord to eat a month's rent after you leave.
does your lease say anything about renovations or repairs?
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:02 PM on June 12, 2007

IANAL. Two terms to look up: "warrant of habitability" and "quiet enjoyment". She's got an obligation to provide a minimally habitable home, and allow your quiet enjoyment of it. It strikes me that several weeks without shower or toilet, accompanied by noise and mess, would seem obvious violatation of those rights, but that's just my opinion. You need to find out whether Massachusetts courts agree, to figure out how strong your negotiating position is. Start by asking at city hall. If you're lucky, Somerville has an ordinance that specifically addresses one of those issues. If not, ask for referral to a local tenants rights service. If you're low income, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau would be a good place to get answers.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:04 PM on June 12, 2007

Tell her to start construction on August 31st, sounds like perfect timing on her part in between tenants. She expects you to not have a working toilet or shower for a month? Get real.
posted by outsider at 6:29 PM on June 12, 2007

Disclaimer: I am a landlord.

A medical reason might help. Allergic to dust? Sleep problems going to be aggravated by noise? Your landlord is fishing, trying to save themselves the downtime to remodel in between tenants.

This is a definite no, IMO.
posted by vaportrail at 6:36 PM on June 12, 2007

Yeah, I don't see why she can't wait until you leave.
posted by kindall at 6:45 PM on June 12, 2007

My landlord remodeled my bathroom while I lived there. It was no fun. What was supposed to be 1 day of no shower/ toilet use- it turned into a week. I won't tell you what I had to resort to... But what ever time frame they give you, multiply it by 3. Tell them no, or use your security deposit as the last month's rent (I don't know what that will accomplish, but at least you know you won't be out that money).
posted by MayNicholas at 6:50 PM on June 12, 2007

some cites for you to check out:

quiet enjoyment

sanitary codes

landlord's right of entry into apartment (and also an interesting looking podcast here, but I haven't listened to it)

links that might be helpful:

a Massachusetts tenant's rights book online

Massachusetts legal services directory (if you'd qualify; they can probably refer you if not)
posted by AV at 7:40 PM on June 12, 2007

I used to live in the Boston area (including Somerville) and have a relevant anecdote: My next door neighbor's fridge had a very slight leak where one of the seals had a small crack in it. In essence, the fridge worked though it didn't keep quite as cool as it should have. My buddy called the tenant association people (not sure what they're called, but it is some sort of local government agency), and they came out within a day or two and told our landlord that rent wasn't to be paid until they got a new refrigerator. And they got a new fridge in another few days.

Long story short: Boston is VERY big on tenants' rights (shockingly so, sometimes), so I can't imagine you'll get fucked over if you complain to the right people.
posted by dhammond at 8:16 PM on June 12, 2007

Remodels always take like five times as long as you think they will. Yeah, I wouldn't remotely think it's possible to live with no bathroom for months- and if you allow this, you will.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:30 PM on June 12, 2007

Tomorrow, tell your landlord NO, absolutely not, she has no permission to enter or do this work. If she enters you will press charges with the police for trespass. Then, check the resources here to find your rights. Also, read your lease. No matter what other rights you have, you do have the right to a functioning bathroom. Nip this one in the bud, now.
posted by caddis at 9:38 PM on June 12, 2007

Refer your landlord to the MA state sanitary code, which pretty much requires a working toilet, sink and a bathroom door that closes for an apartment to be considered habitable. If the landlord puts you up in a hotel room of equivalent square footage for the duration of the remodel, maybe they've got a leg to stand on.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:45 AM on June 13, 2007

Others have posted details on the legal standing, but I will relay something from experience down here in Virginia - our landlord (a legit company rather than private) wants to do 3 weeks of renovations on a bunch of apartments in our block. They're only working on the bathroom and kitchen, but they're still planning to move us out and provide alternative accomodation for the duration.

AFAIK, they are required to do this because the apartment is considered uninhabitable - it requires a working bathroom and functional plumbing, and they need to provide another place to stay because we are still under terms of the lease.

Leasing from a company often puts you in better stead than a private landlord, but seriously, do not let this one slide. She's in the wrong and shafting you so she can avoid the apartment being empty while she renovates.
posted by mogotron at 5:14 AM on June 13, 2007

I'm in this same situation right now! Unfortunately my last "official" lease expired in Oct 2005, so I have no recourse as long as they give me thirty days notice. Obviously, I've found a new apartment. Sad thing is, they redid the bathroom right before I moved in in 2004, it's beautiful...but they did a cruddy job with the below-floor work and now have to rip the whole thing up in order to fix the mess.
posted by Soulbee at 4:56 AM on June 15, 2007

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