Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where trainees, queen bees, and the bourgeoisie alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about how to handle a recalcitrant landlord.
I’ve had a problem with my apartment’s shower that’s been going on for some time now, where the temperature jumps suddenly from cool to scalding hot. Since that’s kind of dangerous, I let the landlord know about this the day after it first started happening, but it’s been weeks, it’s still broke, and he won’t fix it. He did send someone who maybe was a handyman who pretty much jiggled the handle, but other than that it’s been like pulling teeth trying to get him to send an actual goddamn plumber. When he does promise to send someone, they’re a no-show for the appointment.
I’ve been texting my landlord daily—texting because I want all of this on record just in case—but it’s getting increasingly difficult not to call and yell at him. I’m kind of new to the apartment thing, so I’m not clear on who’s responsible for what or what my rights are before I can just get my own plumber in here to fix the stupid thing and take it out of the rent, or maybe just not pay the rent? What’s the move here, Muffle? Help meeeeee!
Cold Showers (Not by Choice or Anything) in Brooklyn
Not being a landlord-tenant lawyer, I’m not qualified to advise you of your legal rights, but as a fellow tenant, I do feel qualified to tell you your landlord sucks. And how, exactly, are you surviving without a pleasantly warm shower awaiting you at the beginning or end of your day? Were I in your shoes, I would have already ripped my shower head off the wall and threatened to beat my landlord with it.
Anyway, since you’re apparently a more reasonable person than I am when deprived of the joy of water hot poured down the back, let’s look at your non-assault options here. Based on my limited experience in researching your rights, your landlord has an obligation (at least in New York) to keep your apartment in “good repair;” that includes keeping your plumbing in good and safe working order. That being said, the fact that he has a legal obligation to handle this doesn’t mean he actually will, as you’ve learned so well.
So, what do you do now? There are good guidelines out there on your rights as a tenant that can help you figure out what you’re entitled to do and how to do it legally; some of your options include withholding rent until the landlord fixes the problem, or having it done yourself and deducting the cost from your rent. However, there are very explicit prerequisites you have to fulfill before you take these approaches involving the notice you have to give to your landlord (and the form of that notice) and the types of problems that qualify, and you should make damn sure you’ve ticked every one of those boxes before you take the risk. If your landlord sues you for unpaid rent, that’s something every future prospective landlord will look up before they rent to you, and good luck ever getting another apartment if you have a lawsuit like that on your name, even if you win.
So you’re in the right, and your landlord should fix this for you, and he should pay for it, and this should have already happened, but “should” doesn’t get you a hot-but-not-molten shower. You need to evaluate your costs and benefits here. What’s important to you? Proving to your landlord that he can’t take advantage of you and getting what’s rightfully yours? Recognizing that this has been and will likely continue to be a huge hassle and that you’ll probably move out within a certain amount of time, and getting a plumber to do it for you? You can try to haggle with the landlord to get him to pay you back, as he should, but if you have the shower fixed yourself, you have to recognize that there’s a decent chance you’ll never see that money again.
Ultimately, it’s up to you: some more cold showers warmed only by your own convictions, or an unjust expense with the consolation of that sweet, steamy bliss.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.