Renovations and heat problems--can this really be legal?

gracekat1March 9, 2009

I live in a 2-family house. Just last week, the boiler that provides the heat to my apartment (we have radiators) broke. The landlord informed me that he isn't going to fix it right away, since there are only 3 weeks left of winter so it shouldn't be very cold for much longer, and he has decided he wants to re-do the heating system in our apartment anyway (replace the radiators with baseboard untis.) He provided us with space heaters (one of which nearly started a fire in my living room), but if he isn't doing anything to correct the heating problem immediately, I doubt that is an acceptable solution, legally.

Secondly, I am not too sure how legal it is for him to come in and make major renovations that aren't absolutely necessary while I am still living in it. Just because he gets a bee in his bonnet about doing this, does that mean that I am going to have to deal with strangers tearing up walls and floors in my house?

I should add that the landlord has also decided that he wants to redo the bathroom in my apartment. I'm just boggled by the whole thing, as it seems that the landlord is determined to behave as if I am not here. I am not a bad tenant--I pay my rent on time, I am quiet, I don't destroy the place or anything like that. I just value my privacy and don't feel that I should pay what I am paying in rent to have it invaded like this.

Any thoughts?

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I would first get in touch with the municipal people (don't know the names of your local ones of course) and tell them about his not providing heat. Three weeks is more than enough for your children to get sick, and I imagine it's illegal for him not to heat the place safely no matter how short a time is involved. Secondly, find out about the renovation business he's trying to land you with - I think it sounds like equivalent to "constructive dismissal" (a term used to describe how bosses purposely use intolerable ways to get rid of employees) and again would imagine it's illegal to do just do what he wants to do to your household. Maybe a real estate lawyer, or one from legal aid could tell you more about your specific laws there, but one thing I know for sure - I would absolutely not put up with any of it for 5 minutes! Do go over your lease and look at all the small print, but don't assume any part of it is necessary 'legal' just because it's on there, and don't take your own interpretation of it to be definitive as you could be cheating yourself.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2009 at 12:38PM
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My fiance and I are going over the lease with a fine-toothed comb, and we're not seeing any grounds for the landlord to be anywhere near to coming into our place. Based on NJ law, if a landlord wants to do any work to a place while it is occupied, the tenants must agree to it as well, or the construction people and the landlord may not enter to do a thing.

I thought about this last night, and I think the very root of the problem is that the landlord thinks of the place as "his house", and that I am renting space in "his house" like a roommate or something, and doesn't understand that that is not at all the case--we are renting an apartment, a privately occupied space that happens to be located in a building he owns.

He tends to run a bit roughshod over us anyway--extremely nosy, invasive, and really enjoys telling half the neighborhood (us included) how to live our lives. We do our best to avoid him, but as he and his wife live in the apartment beneath ours, it's not always easy. My fiance feels that we should just ignore him and suck it up until we move out, as we plan on moving into our own house after we get married--it's only another year and a half tops. (My fiance agreed that even if we hadn't bought a house by that time, we're leaving when our lease is up in 2010.)

    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 10:22AM
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About the heat, I found this site:

The info they give on heat is: Heat requirements
If your lease requires the landlord to provide heat, the landlord must give you the amount of heat required by the state codes and the local town or city ordinance. Under the state housing codes, from October 1 to May 1, the landlord must provide enough heat so that the temperature in the apartment is at least 68 degrees from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., the temperature in the apartment must be at least 65 degrees. Cite: N.J.A.C. 5:10-14 et seq. and N.J.A.C. 5:28-1.12(m). Local health codes cover parts of the year not covered by housing codes.

The housing inspector or board of health in your town enforces the heat requirements in the state and local codes. Larger cities have special no-heat hotlines that are set up especially to handle complaints.

I suspect that your apartment isn't being heated to 68 degrees in all rooms with the space heaters and you probably have a case about the heat.

The problem with the space heaters is 1) they can start fires (as you found out) and 2) they are using your electricity in a situation where the landlord should be paying for your heat. IMO, this is unacceptable unless it is for two or three days until the heat is fixed, as a stopgap measure. And he can fix or replace the boiler without changing the radiators at the same time. He needs a heat source for the apartment, no matter whether you have radiators or baseboard heaters. It sounds like he just doesn't want to spend the money to fix the boiler right now. (Not that he really has a choice, but he clearly doesn't know that.)

About the renovations. Check your lease carefully on this. I'm not sure you can prevent him from replacing the radiators--it is his building and it would probably be cheaper for him to change out the entire building at once, instead of his place now and your place when you move out (and he may have no idea of when you plan to move). However, there is usually a clause in the lease about what the landlord's responsibility is when the unit is rendered uninhabitable--which your's certain would be without a bathroom, or if the entire place were torn up while installing the new baseboard heaters. Usually the landlord has to put you up someplace or give you money for a motel or something while you are unable to live in your apartment.

The baseboard heaters may not be as bad as you think. If they can use the existing plumbing from the radiators, it may be possible to install the new heaters in a day or two. You would be inconvenienced by having to move all your furniture, etc., but it might not require you to leave for a week or more. The bathroom--you would almost definitely have to leave for two days at least and the landlord should cover that expense for you.

I've dealt with the live-in landlord. It can be a pain. I can see where someone in their own home might decide to put off repairs, but when you have tenants and a lease and a legal obligation to provide certain things, you can't put them off. It's difficult to get this through to some people.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 3:50PM
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Thanks, Camlan. I found the same document as to the legality of not having heat...I'm a bit pissed about this to say the very least. My landlord is an old guy who just doesn't get why everyone in the world doesn't live just like him, and it is very, very hard to get him to understand his obligations as a landlord sometimes. The one space heater we have that does work does a masterful job of keeping the bedroom nice and toasty, but that's about it. It's a very decent-sized apartment, which is lovely unless I'm trying to heat or cool it! (By the way, the downstairs apt. already has baseboard heat.)

The bathroom renovations--he just wants to put in one of those tub liners and some new hardware, which is fine by me, as that can all be done in a day (and really needs it, truth be told.) Believe me, if I cannot use my bathroom for more than a day, he will be hearing about it.

The one really nice thing about the place is that the landlord is fairly lenient about when the rent is due--as long as he has the check in hand by the due date, if we ask him to hold it for a week or so he will. Like it would be for practically everyone else these days, it's a big help for us. My fiance doesn't want to jeopardize that arrangement. I don't particularly want to either, but the "surcharge" for that benefit is getting a little rich for my nerves. For now, I'm just going to invest in a Snuggie and dream about the day I can move out to our own house. I just wish I could think of a reasonable, way to let him know of his obligations without causing a confrontation.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 9:24AM
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If you know of someone who he respects, either a family member, or someone (quasi-official?) in the community who might explain the facts of life to him, it might be a good idea. Then again, I've discovered lots of 'old guys' who do know the law perfectly well, but spend all kinds of time and energy trying to either get around it, or think they can take advantage of young people (young to him :-) who supposedly don't know better. These people are so parsimonious as to be awful and you do need to keep your eyes open and be firm with them.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 10:43PM
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If you're taking advantage of a situation where you can pay your rent late (delivering a check they can't cash is the same thing as paying late; don't fool yourself), and it's worth it to you, suck it up. I'm not saying you're a bad tenant, but larger, legitimate rental communities don't give tenants that kind of leeway. Weigh your options very carefully.

lucy, this guy is cutting them a lot of slack taking bad checks from them and holding them...I wouldn't be so quick to try to change his ways.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 2:38AM
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