Insights from a Young and Leery New York Renter, Part 1 On Unit Maintenance

Part 1 – On Unit Maintenance

Due to less than fortunate experiences, I have dealt with almost every aspect of a real estate company that a renter can expect to encounter in the last two months. My issues began when the bedroom wall in our 100-plus-year-old building slowly began to rot from a leaking steam riser. (Don’t worry; this is not your standard ‘gripping renter’ blog post. The end outcome was positive, and I think I learned some tips that can help companies avoid the dreaded one star Yelp review.)

I worked from home one day while the maintenance crew decided what should be done, eventually opening two holes in the wall, and ‘fixing’ the pipe. The inside of the wall was covered in a thick coat of mold, and I requested that it be sealed immediately. I was planning to move in July, and did not want to deal with an invasive wall replacement. This repair would have been fine, but the fixed pipe hissed even louder when the heat turned back on, and the crew never returned to paint my wall. Important point number one.

  • Leave no trace. When work is done, I want my home to look the same as it did when you arrived. This includes smells as well. Cigarettes linger for quite some time even if you step outside.

Two weeks went by and I receive a call at 5:30pm on a weekday informing me that the unit below me had a bad leak, and that management needed immediate access to the apartment. I rushed home with the vision of my cat in a pirate hat floating on the ottoman. There was nothing out of the ordinary, just a hissing steam pipe in the wall as usual.

I let management in to inspect for the cause of the leak. I was told it was coming from a spot in my shower that was missing a half inch of grout. I said that I thought it was unlikely unless there was a crack in the shower pan, but I like fresh grout and caulk so whatever floats your boat. I told the super about the leaking steam pipe. I was told that it is normal for radiators to hiss. (There is no radiator on or near the wall where the pipe is, and the wall is warm to the touch.) This brings up another important point.

  • Listen to the renter. She/he is living in the apartment, dealing with the issue every day. We can probably offer some insight into what is going on.

A few days later another letter appeared tucked into my door requesting access because the renter downstairs was having a leak. I decide to knock on her door. She let me in, and I ask to see where her leak is. The entire ceiling of her kitchen (under my bedroom wall where the steam riser is located) was damp, moldy, sunk, split open and leaking. At this point I realized that she was going through the worst of our shared problem. I apologized, took some photos, and informed her that this was a major problem that was going to require a major repair.

The head super told me that the bedroom wall and steam riser needed to be replaced. I informed them that my fiancé and I refused to inhabit an apartment during the process of removing the innards of a mold covered wall, and would like to break out lease and move. I was told this would not be possible, and I could temporarily move my things into another unit.

I then informed then that the repair would violate my warranty of habitability as defined by New York Real Property Article 7 – § 235-B, which was grounds for breaking the lease. This brings up another point.

  • Young renters are web-savvy, and can quickly learn their rights without much legal experience.

I was promptly allowed to break my lease with a pro-rated rent for the month of February with guaranteed return on my deposit. The girl downstairs was also allowed to break her lease. There are now two vacant apartments and extensive repairs required—I like to think this could have been avoided if they just listened a bit better.

This leads us into the second escapade on my tale—finding a new apartment in a market with a 2.4 percent vacancy in a week and a half.

-Mike Ratliff, Associate Editor